Armagh out to continue rebuilding process by winning promotion showdown with Roscommon
Allianz National Hurling League Division 3A final: Armagh v Roscommon (tomorrow, 2pm, Navan)
AFTER consecutive relegations, Armagh have the opportunity to start moving back in the right direction when they face Roscommon in tomorrow’s Division 3A final.
It is three years since the Orchardmen were last preparing for a divisional decider, and in that time there has been a considerable turnover of players. Indeed, of the starting 15 that defeated Down in Dowdallshill in that 2016 2B final, only six remain.
Declan Coulter transferred to Donegal in 2017 and playmaker Cahal Carvill called time on his county career at the start of 2018, while Padraig O’Connor has also found himself tasked with rebuilding a side shorn of the scoring talents of David Carvill, Conor Corvan and Ryan Gaffney.
Last year was tough, no doubt. O’Connor, who had been involved under former Orchard boss Sylvester McConnell, came in when Paddy Kelly decided to step away following Armagh’s relegation to Division 3A.
There were some hard afternoons too once championship rolled around as they lost heavily in Christy Ring outings against Down, Derry and London.
But 2019 has given some cause for optimism as the Orchard look to come again, with stalwarts such as Simon Doherty, Ciaran Clifford, Artie and Eoin McGuinness and the Curry brothers, Nathan and Odhran, providing a solid backbone.
It is also hoped that Paul Gaffney could return to the fold in time for the start of the Nicky Rackard Cup campaign.
In David Carvill and Ryan Gaffney Armagh lost two dead-eyed free-takers but Keady’s Ruairi Fullerton has stepped up to the mark impressively as the Orchard picked up wins over Monaghan, Lancashire and Louth to secure their spot in tomorrow’s final.
Having recovered from a cruciate ligament injury, Fullerton’s return is a big boost for O’Connor.
One of the finds of the year so far has been young Paddy Quinn from Derrynoose. Playing at left corner-back, he is quick and aggressive, and his man-marking abilities could see him become a cornerstone of this Armagh side for years to come.
Danny Magee has been around the panel for a couple of years but has really caught the eye during this campaign, the Sean Treacy’s man scoring a fantastic goal in the earlier League defeat to Roscommon and linking up well with the experienced Stevie Reneghan and Eoin McGuinness in the forward line.
Armagh and Roscommon lost their last League outings, to Tyrone and Lancashire respectively, but it is likely both had one eye on tomorrow’s final. Eoin McGuinness was shown a red card in that defeat to the Red Hands but won his appeal on Thursday night and is free to play.
The Rossies, managed by Laois native and former Portumna hurler Ciaran Comerford, took the spoils when the counties met at the Athletic Grounds back on February 17.
Playing with a strong wind at their backs, Armagh raced into a five point lead early on but managed only two more before the break, going in level – 0-7 apiece – at half-time.
Comerford’s men then had the advantage of the elements and made full use to run out four point winners, but the Orchard have learned plenty of lessons from that game.
Roscommon like to a play a quick, fluid style of hurling and it is likely Armagh will try to get in their faces a bit more around the middle third in Navan tomorrow afternoon as they bid to disrupt that flow.
Goalkeeper Simon Doherty has been there in both the good days and the bad with Armagh in recent years, and is under no illusions about the significance of this winner-takes-all promotion battle.
“It’s very important because this is very much a new Armagh team,” said Doherty, who plays for Antrim side St John’s.
“We’ve had quite a high turnover of players in the last three years, from one League final to the next, and we want to be playing at a higher level - we know we need to be playing at a higher level to be able to compete consistently.
“We saw how close we were to actually beating teams in 2A a couple of years ago. We’re now down two divisions from that period, so we realise it’s massively important to give everything to try and get promoted.”