Momentum and confidence on their side as Armagh turn attention to Derry Championship clash
PROMOTION to Division One was Armagh’s sole focus from last October to last Saturday and, with it secured on Saturday, attention only turned to Derry and the Ulster Championship this week.
With their crucial final game against Clare deadlocked after an hour it was Oisin O’Neill who grabbed a game that could have gone either way by the scruff of its neck and scored the two points that saw Armagh sprint for the line impressively.
Midfielder O’Neill and younger brother Rian are increasingly important players in this Armagh side and the Orchardmen will look to them for inspiration again at Celtic Park on Sunday.
“We started training in October last year, a full 12 months ago, and promotion is what we targeted,” said the Crossmaglen clubman.
“We never talked about the Championship and even since we came back, we haven’t spoken about Derry once. These two games (against Roscommon and Clare) are all that we were focused on and we didn’t get the job done last week but we did this week.
“We will recover as best we can and in training this week we can focus in on Derry and see what way to approach that.”
It’s asking a lot for Armagh to recover from the physical and emotional effort of travelling to Ennis in a week. The game against Clare was nip-and-tuck until O’Neill stepped up to the mark – breaking through from midfield to fist a first score and then kicking a second from distance.
“I suppose I was lucky,” he said modestly.
“The first was a great pass from Rory (Grugan) and I was glad it found me – the way my second half was going I thought I was going to drop it - but I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
Derry will start as underdogs on Sunday but they will know that Armagh are prone to blowing hot and cold in games. Rory Gallagher’s men will hope to weather Armagh’s good spells and capitalise if they switch off.
Against Clare, the Orchardmen led by seven points after a dominant first quarter but there was only a point in it at the break.
“We had a real bad 10 minutes but I think we showed how much we wanted to get promoted, we sort of focused on ourselves and said that the next ball we needed a score whenever they got level with us and we were able to kick on from there,” he said.
“We spoke about conceding the two goals last week and if that happened again that we would get our big players on the ball and thankfully we did and we managed to kick on from there.”
And despite their lack of preparation for Derry, Armagh travel to Celtic Park with momentum built by a crucial victory and the confidence of being a Division One side for the first time since 2012.
“I suppose we are young team and growing up we would watched Kieran [McGeeney], Paddy [McKeever] and John [Toal] in their team playing Kerry and Dublin and Tyrone and all these teams week-in, week-out and I suppose that is something we wanted to do,” said O’Neill.
“We feel that we kind of let the thing go and it was our responsibility to get Armagh back promoted to Division One and thankfully we are there.
“Now we know the way we played today will not be good enough in Division One, but it gives us good momentum to take into Sunday and then into next season.”