Armagh SFC: Mick O'Dowd steeling himself for another battle with Ballymacnab
Cormac Leonard Armagh SFC quarter-final: Ballymacnab v Pearse Og (tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 2pm)
IF BALLYMACNAB manager Mick O’Dowd feels like he has been in the trenches all year, he has certainly had a full coterie of soldiers to call upon for help.
In an injury ravaged season, which was underlined by the hamstring tear suffered by Gavin McPartland in September’s first round Armagh championship win over Granemore, Ballymacnab have used no less than 36 players at different times according to O’Dowd.
The Round Towers, who were relegated from the top flight of Armagh’s Senior Football League earlier in the year – suffering a 17-point defeat to winners Dromintee on the last day – take on Armagh city side Pearse Óg in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday in the county championship quarter-finals.
“It’s been such a long year for us with the amount of injuries we’ve had and then getting relegated in the league didn’t help,” says O’Dowd.
“It’s just been one of those seasons with the raft of injuries we’ve had to deal with. We started out with a Plan A, then we moved onto Plan B, Plan C and now we’re on to Plan D. We’re a bit like the First World War character your man Rowan Atkinson played – Blackadder – where he always has to find another cunning plan to avoid going over the top.
“Nearly every member of the squad has had injuries at different times. We’ve only really had two stalwarts in Ryan Watters and Ruairí Gribben who have managed to avoid injury all year.
“We’ve used 36 players on our panel. In our first league game against Killeavy we had six players missing, at one stage in the season we had nine out and there we no county players allowed at this point, remember.
“But then the flip side to that is we’ve been able to bring players through who otherwise wouldn’t have got first team football. Niall McKee and Niall Cosgrove, for example both made their championship debuts against Granemore.”
The brilliance of Rory Grugan helped Ballymacnab edge that championship opener against their fierce rivals. The Round Towers were the superior outfit in the first-half, but the momentum switched after the interval. A first-half Grugan goal had his side six ahead at the break but that gap was closed to one by the water break, with Ballymacnab failing to score in the third quarter. Although Éamon Kavanagh’s men just couldn’t grab the score to bring them back on level terms, O’Dowd knows his side were on the ropes.
“The first 20 minutes was very positive. We defended well and you could see the likes of Ronan McMahon using what they had been working on in training to good effect out on the pitch,” Clontibret native O’Dowd added.
“Rory Grugan was immense. And in the last 10 minutes when we had to dig deep, we did it and managed to get over the line. We eked it out.
“We used up our five subs very quickly to try to stem the tide of them coming back at us and then we noticed one or two players who had picked up injuries who we couldn’t physically get off the pitch. Poor Jeremy Gray was standing like a flamenco up front balanced on one leg.
“We were clinging on at the end, but if you get four one-point wins, you win the championship and most teams would take that in a heartbeat, even the likes of Crossmaglen and Maghery maybe.”
If Granemore was a battle Ballymacnab survived, O’Dowd is well aware he is going right back into the trenches against Pearse Óg on Sunday. The Ógs also had to weather a second-half storm in the first round, relying on the goals of Paul and Ruairí Duffy and Chris Rafferty to see them past St Peter’s, and they will be ready and waiting for the Round Towers.
“We didn’t take Granemore for granted, but Pearse Óg will be a different kettle of fish entirely,” O’Dowd said.
“They’re a team with real championship pedigree and with a real talented bunch of players, the likes of the Duffys for example.
“They’re a stylish team, a typical city team in a way. If they get their tails up they can do real damage to you. But with the preparation we’ve put in for the game, we’ll hopefully have a few more minutes in our legs than we did against Granemore.”