Kevin Madden: Armagh can progress - IF they curtail David Clifford

Donegal and Down can make it a treble success in great year for Ulster football

David Clifford takes on Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons.
David Clifford takes on Dublin's Michael Fitzsimons.

When Armagh won the All-Ireland in 2002 they were the 5/1 outsiders of the four teams left, as Dublin, Kerry, and Cork stood in their way. I remember it because I had a few quid on them at what I felt were quite generous odds.

Fast forward 22 years and there they stand again as the 5/1 outsiders to claim Sam. Could that be an omen?

If Armagh can negate the influence of David Clifford in the same manner as Derry did I’m convinced they will win this game. What an obvious thing to say and, of course, easier said than done.

That statement is not to undermine the threat that the likes of Paudie Clifford, Tony Brosnan, and Seanie O’Shea bring but the evidence is there in front of us as plain as the nose on your face.

Michael Fitzsimons and Dublin in last year’s final. Chrissy McKaigue and Derry the last day. Close down every shooting opportunity fast and have him playing one twos around the periphery of the ‘45′ but never giving him adequate space to get a good shooting opportunity away.

As classy as Clifford is, it’s the finishing that sets him part and not his play-making ability. The likes of Darragh Canavan can play the packed defences in a totally different way, bobbing and weaving as he goes. I actually enjoy watching Canavan more, even if Clifford is one of the greatest.

I’m not comparing the two but if you were to look at it in soccer terms Clifford would be the Cristiano Ronaldo whereas Canavan would be closer to Lionel Messi in his style.

It’s not often Kerry compromise their game-plan but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jack O’Connor starting his talisman at centre half-forward in this semi-final and have him mix his game up between running at Armagh and playing close to goal.

Conleith Gilligan has been a significant addition to the Armagh back-room team this year, but Saturday is surely the time that Kieran Donaghy can illustrate his value to McGeeney’s set-up as he offloads all those valuable nuggets of information around his native Kerry and where the chinks might lie.

Armagh's Kieran McGeeney with selector Kieran Donaghy
Armagh's Kieran McGeeney with selector Kieran Donaghy

Not many will know Jack O’Connor or the Kerry psyche better than the big Austin Stack’s man. After all, he won two of his four All-Irelands under the stewardship of the current Kerry manager. His influence in the lead-up to this game will be significant.

Armagh, this year in particular, seem to have really evolved the options they can spring from the bench. You could definitely make a case that the team they finish with is stronger than the starting side. This point can be debated but it’s hard to argue that the scoring power is not enhanced as the likes of Stefan Campbell, Oisin O’Neill and Aidan Nugent come in to the team in the second half of games.

Of course Kerry have the Spillanes, Adrian and Killian, to catapult in but I’m not convinced their bench is as strong as Armagh’s. If McGeeney’s men can stay close going down the home straight I fancy them to make those 5/1 odds, once again, look somewhat generous.

Jim McGuinness talks to the Donegal players during their All-Ireland SFC clash with Tyrone at Ballybofey
Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Jim McGuinness has spoken of his desire to repay the faith of the Donegal supporters Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Donegal v Galway is another hard one to call and I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility that we could see an All-Ulster All-Ireland Final for the first time since 2003. Sure why not when you see practically every football title of note has gone to the northern province this year?

I think it is hard to look past Down to beat Laois in the Tailteann Cup final. What a weekend it could be for the province should this treble come up.

Which brings me to the Derry minors. Congratulations to Damian McErlain, his back-room team and all the mini-Oaks on the huge achievement in delivering back to back All-Ireland Minor titles.

Commiserations to Aidan O’Rourke and Armagh, who will be cursing the fact that they scored 10 times to Derry’s nine but lost the game. The 1-3 without reply by Derry in the second half was fatal to the Orchard challenge.

With Mickey Harte vacating the Derry senior hot seat in hasty fashion this week, and the rumour mill in full flow, all eyes will now be on the Derry County Board, to see what move they make in regards to their next managerial appointment.

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news about double All-Ireland winning manager John O’Mahony passing away over the weekend.

I was fortunate to have got to meet John on several occasions as he passed on his knowledge and wisdom to teams who wanted true inspiration on their weekends away. I rarely ever remember him turn a team down as he worked heaven and earth to do you a good turn.

That extended to his role as a TD a few years ago, when a couple of passports in the Madden house were cutting it fine arriving ahead of a pre-booked holiday.

A great man who will be sadly missed by his family, friends and GAA people up and down the country. Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam.