Armagh will bring more attacking aggression to Donegal rematch: Rory Kavanagh

Armagh found the right attacking balance against Tyrone on Sunday - something they failed to in defeat to Donegal back in April. Picture by Philip Walsh
Armagh found the right attacking balance against Tyrone on Sunday - something they failed to in defeat to Donegal back in April. Picture by Philip Walsh

FORMER Donegal star Rory Kavanagh expects a more aggressive, attacking approach from Armagh as they eye up revenge for their Ulster Championship exit at the hands of the Tir Chonaill this weekend.

The All-Ireland qualifier draw has brought the pair together again in Clones on Sunday, and the landscape looks a lot different than six weeks ago when Donegal were revelling in a straightforward seven point victory over the Orchardmen.

Kieran McGeeney’s men were roundly criticised for a poor showing that day, but hit back impressively last Sunday to send reigning Sam Maguire holders Tyrone spiralling out of the Championship.

Donegal, meanwhile, are coming off the back of a gut-wrenching extra-time Ulster final defeat to neighbours Derry.

Kavanagh doesn’t expect Armagh to repeat the mistakes of Ballybofey and believes that, having gone for the jugular against the Red Hands, Sunday could be an entirely different contest.

“The kick-outs were a big one the last day,” said the 2012 All-Ireland winner.

“It was very strange, straightaway, to give Shaun Patton the kick-out. In a way you’re almost telling the players ‘we admit defeat on this’. I don’t think they will do the same on Sunday.

“On the flip side, Donegal really went after Ethan Rafferty’s kick-out and bossed it. That’s two areas Donegal would have been very happy with.

“Another aspect for me, Armagh didn’t kick the ball against Donegal. You saw the way they played against Tyrone, they were getting inside, it was keeping Tyrone boys honest, dropping back to protect the half-back and full-back line, and that left a lot of space for the runners coming from deep.

“Stefan Campbell got on so much ball, Jarly Og [Burns], the midfielders… they got the balance right with their kicking game against Tyrone where we didn’t see that at all against Donegal.

“Donegal set up in a particular way, and instead of pressing the middle third they’ll drift back and get set up. They don’t want to be delivering balls into Rian O’Neill and boys like that knowing they might be batted away, and Donegal players picking it up. So they have to choose their moments when they do that – they got that right against Tyrone.

“Out of possession as well, they worked their socks off. It was wild impressive listening to Kieran Donaghy saying they had just drifted back to one basic principle over the last few weeks – work-rate.

“You could see they really did go back to basics and it was just about delivering unbelievable effort and attitude.”

Now in his fourth year at the helm, that Ulster final defeat to Derry has turned up the heat on Donegal boss Declan Bonner – while last Sunday in Armagh, according to Kavanagh, was proof that the Orchard players are fully behind their manager.

“Sunday was a big, big game for Armagh because Kieran McGeeney was probably under a bit of pressure going in.

“People were questioning should he be the man, but they showed they’re really with the manager. If there were any doubts, you might have seen it after the first three or four minutes when Conor McKenna got the goal, but they answered that very well.

“From a Donegal point of view, that’s why the Ulster final was such a big game, because it would have converted a lot of the doubters out there if we’d got over that.

“The defensive side of things, we were really lacking in intensity – lots of bodies back but letting Derry players out of the net far too easily. Sometimes they were doubled up on, tripled up on and still getting out, which is very un-Donegal. That defensive intensity you associate with Donegal wasn’t there.

“With Donegal, there’s definitely a thing where we might feel we have Armagh’s number, but the hunger now and the motivation, is it there? Armagh have the energy, the momentum. Donegal are coming off a very tough Ulster final defeat in extra-time, it’s going to be hard for them to raise the game with such a short turnaround.

“They are going to have to look deep inside themselves, and ask are there people other than Michael Murphy - can the Michael Langans step up, can Peadar Mogan do it again, Jason McGee… can they step up and get us over the line?”