Orchard well schooled to pass Wee character test

Armagh Ace, Jamie Clarke fends off Sean Pender of Offaly. Picture by Ian Maginess
Armagh Ace, Jamie Clarke fends off Sean Pender of Offaly. Picture by Ian Maginess

Allianz Football League Division Three: Louth v Armagh (tomorrow, Gaelic Grounds, 2pm)

THE successful lobbying by Louth to have last weekend’s club league fixtures postponed is an indication of just how much significance they are placing on tomorrow’s clash with Armagh in Drogheda.

The Wee county are on a roll and manager Colin Kelly has played a strong hand to ensure that they are in the best possible shape to keep on the right track.

Winning tomorrow would leave them on the cusp of back-to-back promotions. Additionally, putting one foot into Division Two whilst all but wrecking Armagh’s promotion hopes would be warmly welcomed at the Gaelic Grounds.

The two counties enjoy an unusual rivalry, but it is still an intense one, especially along the south Armagh-north Louth border.

The sides have never met in the Championship having avoided each other in both the Qualifier series and the All-Ireland semi-finals of 1950 and ‘53.

That ensures that League meetings between them take a life of their own, and the recent results have been well matched with a win for each and a draw the outcome of their last three clashes.

There’s no doubting who holds the power heading into this match though. Four wins from four have left Kelly’s side as one of only two in the country to still hold a hundred percent record – Wexford in Division Four are the other.

They’ve eased home against Laois and Offaly and have battled to wins against Longford and Antrim with the likes of Ryan Burns, Tommy Durnin and Andy McDonnell catching the eye. The latter, along with Jim McEnaney, may miss tomorrow’s match through injury though.

Kieran McGeeney’s side enter this game in third place in the table but three points off Louth, and it’s imperative that they close the gap.

Their scoring average took a significant boost with their 6-22 tally in the 30-point win over Offaly two weeks ago, but the Gaelic Grounds pitch is never conducive to free-flowing football with the recent rain not helping either.

This will be a real character test for Armagh. The pitch will sap the energy from their legs, Louth will flood bodies back and the home support will be right on top of them. The temptation to wilt will be strong and too often in recent years they have been unable to resist.

One man who loves those sorts of battles is James Morgan but McGeeney has opted against throwing him in from the start despite the Crossmaglen defender racking up some minutes in a recent challenge match win over Meath.

Unsurprisingly, McGeeney has decided not to make any changes – on paper at least – from a 30-point winning side, and that ensures that it will still be a fairly young and inexperienced first 15 taking to the pitch.

There’s class there though and all eyes will be on their sparkling full-forward line of Jamie Clarke, Andrew Murnin and Stefan Campbell.

This trio has the ability to bring Armagh onto the next level, and if they can be pin-pointed by the supply line, the visitors will win this game.

If they don’t and the gap between them and Louth remains at three or stretches to five points by Sunday evening, another year in Division Three looks inevitable.

Louth: TBA

Armagh: B Hughes; M Shields, C Vernon, P Hughes; N Rowland, B Donaghy, A McKay; S Sheridan, A Findon; R Grugan, A Duffy, N Grimley; J Clarke, S Campbell, A Murnin