Armagh look to move into semi-final contention as Queen's visit Cathedral City

Ciaron O'Hanlon could see some game-time against his native county after recovering from shoulder surgery
Ciaron O'Hanlon could see some game-time against his native county after recovering from shoulder surgery

Dr McKenna Cup Section A: Armagh v QUB (tomorrow, the Athletic Grounds, 2pm)

AWAY defeats last weekend left these sides propping up Section A after the first round of games.

Queen’s lost to Down by three points in Downpatrick while the Orchardmen were pipped by a point against Derry but despite that loss, Armagh will be confident of a win on home soil tomorrow that would move them into semi-final contention.

While James McCartan’s students were struggling against Down, the Orchardmen’s habit of playing in fits and starts cost them dear in their opener at Owenbeg.

After taking an early lead, the visitors trailed at the break and although a collectors’ item screamer from Ciaran McKeever kept them in the game, Derry goalkeeper Ben McKinless secured a win for the Oak Leafers with a stunning save from Ethan Rafferty’s piledriver.

The result may have dampened early season optimism in the Orchard county a little, but promising displays from a number of emerging players was more important for manager Kieran McGeeney.

Armagh were without Brendan Donaghy, Paul Hughes, James Morgan, Mark Shields, Shea Heffron, Joe McElroy, Colm Watters, Niall Grimley, Ciaron O’Hanlon, Oisin O’Neill, Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell, Pearce Casey, Gavin McParland, Paddy Morrison, Kevin Dyas, Andrew Murnin and Andy Mallon against Derry so the performances of some of the young talent in his squad will have given the Orchard boss reason for optimism as this season unfolds.

Simon McCoy, Ciaran Higgins, Niall Rowland, Ben Crealey, Anto Duffy, Oisin Mac Iomhair and Oisin Lappin all did their causes no harm and they will hope to drive Armagh to promotion from Division Three and an extended Championship run this year.

“I was happy with the majority of the performance,” said the Orchard County boss after the game in Owenbeg.

“We gave away a penalty and we missed a couple of chances. In fairness to the Derry ’keeper, he made a superb save near the end and you have to hand it to him.

“But there were a lot of good things in it for us. We would have liked to get the victory. They fought back well and showed some good composure at times, and poor (composure) at other times. But I think there were more positives than negatives for us.”

He added: “We want new players coming through and we want to create competition to push people for places. I want fellas coming through and saying: ‘I want that jersey’.”

Meanwhile, James McCartan fielded 13 Mourne county natives in his panel last Sunday. The former Down manager is likely to name four Armagh hopefuls in his tomorrow including Crossmaglen starlet Aidan Rushe, Fergus Quinn (Belleek), Shea Heffron (Clann Eireann) and Carrickruppen’s Ciaron O’Hanlon who didn’t feature against Down but will hope to get some game-time after recovering from shoulder surgery.

McCartan, who has Armagh All-Ireland winner Paddy McKeever in his management team, admitted after last Sunday’s three-point loss: “no-one is expecting us to win these games”.

“We were disappointed with our performance, it was poor,” he said.

“We were flat and then in the last 20 minutes we showed a wee bit of conviction and we turned it around a bit. But it wouldn’t cover up the cracks – it was a poor day for us to be honest.

“With our college no-one will be expecting us to win these games but we were still disappointed with our performance. Armagh will be in the same boat but maybe the pitch won’t be as heavy and we might see a better game.

“With Armagh losing maybe they will put out a better team.”

Down and Derry, the top two in Section A, meet in Newry tomorrow and a draw there would mean that the winners in the Cathedral City remain in third.

However, a decisive result either way in Newry should mean that the winners of Armagh-QUB will move up to second. The Orchardmen should certainly be capable of winning this game with a bit to spare and target a semi-final place in their final group game against Down next Wednesday.