Armagh wary of 'smarting' Donegal ahead of Ulster derby showdown

Donegal manager Declan Bonner will need to lift his side after back-to-back defeats
Donegal manager Declan Bonner will need to lift his side after back-to-back defeats

ARMAGH assistant-manager Jim McCorry expects Donegal to be “smarting” and back to near full strength for Saturday night’s Division Two Ulster derby in Ballybofey.

The game could be described as pivotal and, while that description could apply to almost every game in the dog-eat-dog second tier, the winners of it will be safe from relegation and in the promotion frame and the losers still with work to do with two games remaining.

Armagh’s victory over a Tipperary side that had beaten Donegal in their previous outing meant they leapfrogged the early pacesetters who lost to Fermanagh in Letterkenny on Sunday. That defeat meant Declan Bonner’s men have now lost their last two games and McCorry is expecting a backlash at MacCumhail Park at the weekend.

“We’re going out in all our games to play good, open football and take two points and we’ll be no different when we go up to Ballybofey,” said McCorry.

“Donegal will be smarting now (after losing to Fermanagh) but Fermanagh have proven themselves on the big stage more than once this year and last year as well. The Donegal game will be tough for us. Some of the bigger names will be brought back from injury – the cotton wool will be taken off - so we’re not going up there expecting it to be an easy game.

“Whatever their result was against Fermanagh, we were going up into a cauldron in Ballybofey, so it’s going to be very, very tough.”

With three games still to go, Meath and Fermanagh are level on six points and leading the charge for promotion. Both counties have winnable home games next Sunday but the picture could have changed by this time next week.

Ten points was enough to see Down promoted to the top flight during McCorry’s sole season in charge back in 2015. Last year it took 11 points for Roscommon and Cavan to clinch the promotion places but 10 was enough for Kildare (2017) and Cavan (2016) to reach Division One.

Three wins in their final three games would get Armagh and Donegal up to that 10-point mark but Meath, Fermanagh and Kildare can all do better and McCorry refused to get speculate on promotion possibilities after Armagh’s first win of the season.

“It’s so hard to call this League,” he said.

“History can make a man a fool when you look at people who have called scenarios in Leagues after two or three games. Sometimes it goes down to the wire and this time last week we were sitting second from the bottom. Now we’re fourth from the top so it would be a very foolish man to call the League even after the fourth game or the fifth game.

“All the Leagues are tight. People were talking about how much Tyrone and Dublin were in trouble a week ago and now they have moved up.

“Just one game, rather than home and away, makes it so much tighter. Our aim at the start was to retain our division two status and that’s what we still want to do and promotion is another thing we would look for within it. I think this is going to go down to the last weekend to see who goes up and who goes down in this League.”

Donegal’s Michael Murphy warmed-up on Sunday but didn’t enter the fray. He may do so on Saturday night and the Tir Chonaill men are still minus Paddy McGrath, Frank McGlynn and a Gaoth Dobhair group that includes Odhran MacNaillais, Neil McGee, Daire O’Baoill, Michael Carroll and Odhran McFadden-Ferry.

Meanwhile, corner-back Paul Hughes started his first game for Armagh this year while Ethan Rafferty came on as a late substitute against Tipperary.