Hurling & Camogie

Karl McKeegan’s Armagh set for “massive task” ahead of Donegal visit

The Orchard county are looking a boost after a disappointing League campaign

Armagh hurling manager Karl McKeegan
Armagh hurling manager Karl McKeegan (John Merry)

ARMAGH face a “massive, massive task” this Saturday afternoon says boss Karl McKeegan as his side welcome Donegal to the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds for the opening round of the Nickey Rackard Cup.

The Orchard County avoided relegation to Division Four with a three-point win over Louth on the final day of the league while Donegal were operating in Division 2B and reached the league semi-finals.

McKeegan admits that the visiting side will be favourites to open their championship account with a win, but insists his Armagh team, that will be minus a few key men, won’t go down without a fight.

Paudie Lappin looks set to miss out on the rest of the season through injury while Fionntan Donnelly, Peadar McBride and Odhran Curry won’t make it back in time for this weekend’s encounter.

“We’ve had a great few weeks, we’ve trained really, really hard,” said the former Antrim hurler.

“Everybody knows we let ourselves down in the league, the players know, and the managers know. We made mistakes, and we just didn’t perform as well as we should have.

“We called a meeting at the end of the league and said that all we can do is put the hard work in and see where it takes us and credit to them, they’ve worked hard. We’ve had injuries and there’s a few boys out which is disappointing.

“We’ve had a brilliant three weeks and now this week has been a wee bit lighter, but it’s been a great response from the lads since the league and we couldn’t ask more from them.”

That win over Louth was Armagh’s only victory of the league while they also earned a second round draw with Division 3A finalists Sligo, but suffered defeats to eventual winners Mayo, Cavan and Monaghan.

Armagh hurling manager Karl McKeegan
Armagh hurling manager Karl McKeegan (John Merry)

“Donegal were at the top of Division 2B, and we were at the bottom of Division 3A so there’s a fair difference there. Obviously, our league campaign wasn’t ideal, but leagues are for playing in and championships are for winning.

“I’m hoping that we can change the mindset but we’re under no illusions, it’s going to be a massive, massive task against Donegal, they’re probably overwhelming favourites for the whole thing.

“But whenever it comes to championship, if you put the pedal to the metal then anything can happen, and it just depends on the day. Hopefully we’ll get a wee bit of luck, and the boys will stand up and that’s all you can ask.”

The two sides clashed in the same venue last season and two injury time goals from Gerard Gilmore and Conor Gartland saw Donegal run out 10-point winners, but Armagh showed enough that day to suggest they can deal with last year’s Nickey Rackard Cup finalists.

“They won by 10-points in the end, but it was a good battle right up to the last few minutes,” recalled McKeegan. “The boys know that they shouldn’t fear it because they saw last year how they did put it up to them.

“Yes, Donegal pulled away in the end and had that wee bit of class, but we should be going in with the mentality that we held them for so long last year, we should be fit to do the same then this year and you want that bit of luck to go your way then.

“We’re really looking forward to it and looking forward to the whole championship campaign, the league campaign was disappointing, but we have to drive on and the boys are ready for it. We’ll give it a good rattle, starting on Saturday.”