Derry to heap more misery on Armagh
Christy Ring Cup Group Two round two: Armagh v Derry (today, Athletic Grounds, 1pm)
THE Armagh hurlers have been relentlessly pummelled this season but there is still one big blow in the offing unless things change drastically in their final two Christy Ring Cup games.
The Orchard county are massive underdogs for their home match against Derry today and unless they find some hidden magic, they'll be in a similar situation against London in two weeks' time.
They may have only played one game in Group Two but things are looking ominous. A 6-21 to 0-11 hammering at the hands of Down suggests that it will take a minor miracle to avoid finishing bottom. Even then they'll not have the safety net of a relegation play-off as the worst side in both groups drops down to Nicky Rackard level for 2019.
Given they have already lost manager Paddy Kelly (replaced by interim boss Padraig O'Connor), have been relegated from Division 2B and are without key players Ryan Gaffney and David Carvill, both taking a break, it must feel like there's never going to be a break in those storm clouds.
Still, hope springs eternal and O'Connor will want to see much more from his players today.
Team captain Simon Doherty should come in for Fintan Woods, who was given a shot in goals last week. Davy Bridges will miss out through suspension though.
Derry start the day level with their hosts on zero points, but they have much more cause for optimism.
They played pretty well against London last week considering that Collie McGurk had limited access to his players in the build up.
It was no surprise, however, that when push came to shove, it was the Exiles that grabbed the crucial winning scores late on given that their preparations had been much smoother.
There were plenty of positives for McGurk though, especially as the game progressed and the rustiness started to seep away.
Chief amongst them was Cormac O'Doherty who chalked up an impressive 11 points as he showed super accuracy from frees and a ‘65'.
Unfortunately for the visitors, it looks like O'Doherty's Slaughtneil clubmates Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue will not be involved, as they are understood to be away with the Derry football squad.
That does rob the Oakleafers of some real impetus, but they should still have far too much for Armagh.
When these sides met in the League in February, Armagh left Celtic Park with a six-point victory.
The Derry team today will have a similar feel to the side that lined out three months ago. Armagh, by contrast, will be without about half of the side that secured the points.
That's too much for most teams to absorb, and certainly for an Armagh side with a bench packed with youngsters.
Derry should win here to keep their Christy Ring hopes alive while the Orchard county will be a step closer to another hammer blow.