Armagh ready for Division One fight for survival: Aidan Forker
ARMAGH may be underdogs in Division One but Aidan Forker insists they're ready to fight like terriers for survival.
The Maghery man believes their McKenna Cup matches against the last two Ulster champions Cavan and Tyrone, and eventual competition winners Monaghan, will stand to them in a tricky top flight campaign:
"Our focus is on doing ourselves justice in the League. Training is good, but competition against Ulster counties is the best preparation we can hope for. Covid is still there, there are nights you mightn't have as many there as you'd hope, I'm sure every team is the same, it dampens preparations a wee bit."
Kieran McGeeney's men start with an away game against Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday night and Forker admits it's been on Armagh minds for some time:
"It's obviously been a topic of conversation among the players, everything was geared towards that. What better test than facing the best team ever, arguably?
"There's not too many of them have stepped away and they'll be hurting from last year [when they lost in the All-Ireland semi-final to Mayo].
"We're definitely the hunters when it comes to Division One, so we'll not get too ahead of ourselves. We'll focus on how we can try to compete, compete with them and against them, in headquarters. We'll relish it."
Forker was an attacking star the last time Armagh played Dublin, also at Croke Park in the 2012 Division One, round four, scoring two points - but the Orchardmen were hammered by 4-17 to 1-10.
Armagh went down that season, and were relegated again, albeit unfortunately, two years later, before returning to the top flight for last year's truncated campaign.
"They were [All-Ireland Champions], really going for it," recalled Forker of that 16-point thrashing almost a decade ago. "It was a few seasons then when we weren't in the first division…
"It's just good to be in the mix, good to be at the top table again. It's been a long road for a lot of us, but we've a lot of young, good players who are really champing at the bit to get playing. Competition for places is there. It's going to be a big challenge, it's going to be really tough, really, really tough, but we've prepared as best we can."
Indeed, this year's task is even harder than last year's when Armagh faced Ulster rivals Donegal, Monaghan, and Tyrone, in Division One North, before comfortably beating Roscommon in a play-off to stay up.
As well as those three Ulster teams again, and Dublin, Armagh must also face Kerry, Kildare, and Mayo, so Forker acknowledges this is a top class Division One:
"Totally, and arguably we've the toughest start of them all, with Dublin and Tyrone. We're under no illusions of how hard it's going to be. We're just focussing on ourselves. To be fair to the management, they're really helping us
"Listen, it's going to be tough for everyone but that's where you want to be. What a great challenge - that's how we have to frame it. You want to be competing against the best there is out there. Looking forward to it."
Among the positives for Armagh is the depth of their squad, making matchday selection a problem, albeit a welcome one, for McGeeney, as Forker knows:
"Yeah, it's very difficult now, I wouldn't relish that decision. We've been struck a few times over the last number of weeks with Covid cases, which has affected preparation, and boys have had their chance to step up…
"There are boys coming back, boys who've been there a long time, boys who are maybe a year or two down the line who are getting stronger."