How much do Armagh want the points? With bigger fish to fry Rebels could rein at Pairc Ui Chaoimh

Unbeaten Armagh have Division Two final and Ulster Championship opener looming after Cork trip

Armagh's Greg McCabe made a couple of telling runs in the first half against Donegal Picture: Philip Walsh
Greg McCabe has been ever-present in the Armagh defence so far this season

Allianz National Football League Division Two, round seven: Cork v Armagh (Saturday, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 7pm)

ARMAGH are already promoted and Cork are already safe so there’s just… What is there to play for at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday evening?

Hammering Cavan last weekend sealed the deal for Kieran McGeeney’s Orchardmen who return to Division One in very impressive style with a game to spare.

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McGeeney put his neck on the block at the end of last season when he asked his county’s clubs to either back him or sack him. A clear majority voted for the ‘02 Sam Maguire-skipper to continue into a 10th season and McGeeney has answered his critics in style with five wins – three by double-figure margins – and a draw against also unbeaten Donegal that will keep Orchard feet on the ground for the Championship.

With the job done in the League, changes were expected for a game which has a deadrubber feel to it, but McGeeney has named the side that got the Orchard county into this position. Nine players have started all six games so far and all nine are named in the starting line-up for round seven.

The electric pace of Oisin Conaty helped cut Meath open on Saturday night. Picture by John Merry
The electric pace of Oisin Conaty helped cut Meath open in round two of the NFL. Picture by John Merry

In addition, Stefan Campbell has started five games and came on as a sub in the other so McGeeney has been able to field a very settled team while keeping a host of quality and experienced operators, including the O’Neill brothers and Cullyhanna’s All-Ireland-winning trio, chomping at the bit on the bench.

Andrew Murnin missed the first two games but when fit the St Paul’s clubman starts and he has slotted into an attack that has gorged itself on scores. Conor Turbitt has led the way with 1-22 and has had support from Oisin Conaty, a contender for Armagh’s player of the League, (0-12), Rory Grugan (0-15) and Campbell (0-10).

Elsewhere, Joe McIlroy is revelling in an extended run in the side and growing in stature and confidence in a ball-winning role in the middle third. The defence, with Paddy Burns, Peter McGrane, Greg McCabe and Aidan Forker all ever-present, hasn’t conceded a goal yet and Blaine Hughes has been excellent between the sticks. McGeeney will have to face a selection headache when Ethan Rafferty, outstanding in goal over the last two seasons, returns to full fitness.

Armagh are going well but so, after a terrible start, are Cork. The Rebels lost their first three games but have recovered well and won the last three against Fermanagh, Meath and relegated Kildare.

John Cleary’s men can secure Sam Maguire football by League standing if they win on home soil and history favours that because you have to go back to 1988 for the last time an Armagh came home from Leeside with the points.

How much do Armagh want them on Saturday? They have bigger fish to fry with a League final coming up against Donegal the following weekend and then their Ulster Championship quarter-final against Fermanagh on April 14.

Any game can take on a life of its own but the Orchardmen could be forgiven for going through the motions at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. If that is the case their hosts, who need the points more, get the nod to take them.

Cork: TBC

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; G McCabe, A Forker, J McElroy; Connaire Mackin, B Crealey; S Campbell, R Grugan, B McCambridge; C  Turbitt, A Murnin, O Conaty

Subs: S Magill, N Grimley, C Higgins, J Hall, J Duffy, O O’Neill, T Kelly, J Og Burns, R O’Neill, A Nugent, R McQuillan