Consistency the key as Armagh strive for return to top flight and Championship success
CONSISTENCY will be key if Armagh are to make the transition from alsorans to genuine contenders this season, says Aidan Nugent.
The versatile attacking wing half-back contributed 1-4 in three games as Armagh took pole position in Division Two despite dropping points against Laois and Westmeath earlier this year.
That result against Westmeath typified Armagh's mercurial form over recent seasons as the Orchardmen raced into what looked like a match-winning lead only to collapse in the second half and emerge with a draw.
“Inconsistency is something we're striving to improve on,” says Nugent.
“We know how good we can be and then we know how easily we can switch off and let teams get back into it. This year it showed in the Westmeath game. We blew them away in the first 15-20 minutes but then we let them back into it.
“It's just about getting that consistency and keeping up concentration levels because if we perform for the full 70 minutes, I don't think we'll be far away from anyone.”
Despite that draw in Mullingar and a loss in Portlaoise, Armagh recovered to take pole position in Division Two and a dominant performance against Fermanagh in round five (Nugent weighed in with 1-2) left them well placed for promotion with two games to go.
Happily for them, those games (versus Roscommon and Clare) will be played, meaning Kieran McGeeney's side have the chance to clinch a place in the top flight and Nugent sees that as key to future Championship success.
“If you're serious about winning anything at county level you want to be up in Division One because you're testing yourself week-in, week-out against the best in the country,” said Nugent, a teacher at Colaiste Chu Chulainn in Dundalk.
“If you're winning games and putting it up to those teams you know you're well fit to compete with them (in the Championship). Being in Division One is the only place to be if you want to challenge for Ulsters and All-Irelands.”
And Armagh – who begin their Championship campaign against Derry - intend to challenge for the Ulster title this year.
“At the start of this year we set out and we want to win Ulster,” explained Nugent, who made his full debut against Down in the Ulster Championship last year.
“We'll take each game as it comes. It's knock-out football which makes it even more interesting and hopefully we'll get there.”
Meanwhile, the ball gets thrown back into Armagh's football mix on Friday night as competitive games make a welcome return after four months and Nugent predicts it will be “championship pace” from the start.
Nugent will be integral to Cullyhanna's prospects this year and the St Patrick's side make the trip to Madden on Friday night where he will come up against his Orchard County team-mate Niall Grimley.
“We're three or four weeks out from the championship so we'll be taking this game on Friday night as close to championship pace as we can,” said former St Paul's Bessbrook star Nugent.
“There'll be no taking it easy for the first few weeks, I know injuries and all that is going to be part of it but you can't be holding back.”
Cullyhanna were county finalists in 2013 and 2016 and with management team Steven Reel and Sean Nugent working alongside coach Ciaran McKeever, they hope to go a step further this year.
“Some of our personnel have changed,” Nugent explains.
“We have a lot of boys away but we're playing to a structure so it doesn't matter who we have on the pitch, we could have 15 new players and it wouldn't matter as long as they know the system we play. We have as good a chance as anyone in the county.
“Everything we do is relevant, you're never doing stuff in training thinking: ‘What are we doing this drill for?' Everything we are doing is geared towards games so we're not lacking anything preparation-wise, everything has been put in place for us so it's up to us on the pitch to turn it on when it comes to the games.”