Mickey Harte and Derry will have a point to prove predicts Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney

Armagh have some of the best players in the country says manager after win against Westmeath

Armagh's Tiernan Kelly on the attack with Westmeath's Jonathan Lynam and Kevin Maguire in pursuit. Picture: John Merry
Armagh's Tiernan Kelly on the attack with Westmeath's Jonathan Lynam and Kevin Maguire in pursuit. Picture: John Merry (J_Merry)

ARMAGH are up against a quality outfit with a point to prove when they make the trip to Derry for next Sunday’s group one, round two showdown at Celtic Park, says Kieran McGeeney.

Mickey Harte’s Oak Leafers have lost back-to-back games since they won the Division One title but Armagh manager McGeeney isn’t buying into the notion that last year’s All-Ireland semi-finalists are past their peak.

Armagh bounced back from losing the Ulster final with a convincing win against Westmeath last Saturday but McGeeney is well aware that Derry’s scoring power and pace makes them “a different proposition”.

“When you watch games you see things that don’t suit the narrative that Derry are gone,” he said.

“They scored 15 points against Galway and dropped six short and 11 wide, so that’s over 30 shots in that game and the same in the Donegal game. They’re a really quick team on the counter and in Shane McGuigan they have one of the best forwards about so we know we have a tough task ahead this week. They’ll be going out with a point to prove and they have serious pace throughout the team as well.

“The reality for us is we’re playing the best team in Division One – that’s the reality. If you’re hitting 30 shots a game and you’re putting 17-18 of them over, that’s quality. They got caught with a couple of kickouts (against Donegal) but they didn’t get caught with that against Galway and they were down a man and were still able to produce. If McGuigan’s shot had gone in at that time (they might have won).

“So we know we’re up against a quality side with a point to prove and it’s going to be one of the toughest games of the year.”

Kieran McGeeney is in his 10th year in charge of Armagh. Picture by Philip Walsh
Kieran McGeeney is in his 10th year in charge of Armagh. Picture by Philip Walsh

The rivals met last year in the Ulster final and, although Derry took the lead with a fortuitous Brendan Rogers goal, Armagh looked the better side throughout the second half but couldn’t seal the deal. McGeeney doesn’t believe that game will have any bearing on this weekend’s encounter.

“You’ve got two different teams – you’ve got different players,” he said.

“If Eoin McEvoy is back, he’s a different animal than he was even last year. The biggest thing is they’ve played Division One teams the whole way through – they are at a serious level and I think a team that’s hitting 17-18 scores a game and pulling off 30 shots is a serious outfit.”

Mickey Harte will expect a reaction from his side after their losses against Donegal and Galway and McGeeney got one from his players against Westmeath. There was only a point in it at half-time but Armagh upped the tempo from the start of the second half and won comfortably in the end.

“It takes a resilient bunch and it’s dealing with a lot of the noise they get,” said McGeeney.

“Each loss is a hammerblow and next week will be a test – when things get tough, when you’re looking for that confidence.

“If you score that penalty (and win the shootout) everybody tells you you’re the better team and, for a change, I’d be a genius. For the players it’s hard to take because we have good players – Rory (Grugan), Aidan Forker, Rian (O’Neill)… They’re some of the best players in the country. I’m not saying we’re better than any of the other teams but we have some of the best players in the country, there’s no doubt about that.

“We have shown we can live with teams but those hammerblows can make a switch when you don’t get that win. We got that win in 1999 against Derry (Ulster final). Armagh couldn’t beat them for years but we got a victory and the next thing you just play differently, even when you’re playing bad you know how to squeeze out a game.

“With these fellas they just need that one over the line to give them that wee bit of confidence. Listen, we have games in front of us that will give them that opportunity and hopefully they’ll avail of it.”