Recent champions Maghery and Armagh Harps clash in first round of Armagh Senior Football Championship
MAGHERY, champions in 2016 and again two years' ago, meet 2017 kingpins Armagh Harps tomorrow night (7pm) in the tie of the first round of the Orchard county senior championship.
The Cathedral City side were Division 1A champions in Armagh this season while Maghery were relegated with just three wins to show from 14 outings. Harps won both league meetings but the loughshore outfit were hampered with injuries and by the absence of Armagh quartet Ben Crealey, Aidan Forker, Ciaran Higgins and Brendan Haveron for much of the season.
However, the memory of last year's championship win over the Harps will be fresh in Maghery minds and, now back at full strength, the Sean McDermott's side will hope to give a better account of themselves at the Athletic Grounds.
“We were very disappointed with how the championship ended last year (Maghery were knocked out by eventual champions Clann Eireann) and we've had a poor league,” admitted David Lavery.
“We've all sat done since then and took a look at ourselves and started to work at getting our performances back to where they should be so it should be a hard game for both teams. We know everything about each other, so there'll be no secrets for either team and it should be a good game but it will be a tight game because both teams will fancy themselves.
“Harps will probably be going into it full of confidence and rightly so. They had a very good league, they seemed to have their full squad all year and they've gelled well.”
Lavery admits his team were “taught a lesson” in the first league clash with the Harps. The second meeting was closer but the Harps still came out on top. With injuries healed and their Armagh players back, the loughshore side will hope for much better tomorrow.
“It's been a while since the management have had the difficulty of having a full panel to choose from,” said Lavery.
“They've had it hard this year. A lot of young boys got valuable experience in games this year and, in the long run, that'll do us good. They did extremely well and it will only benefit Maghery down the line.”
Those young players will have big boots to fill and the biggest absentee is James Lavery – a Michael Murphy-esque colossus over close to 20 seasons for Maghery at midfield and in defensive and attacking situations – who hasn't featured in the blue and yellow this year.
Younger brother David hasn't given up hope that 37-year-old James will return, but it won't be in this campaign.
“On a weekly basis he's still getting asked to go to training,” he said.
“This year he had to take a step back and obviously we'd like to have him in there but other boys have to step up.
“James has carried us for long enough and it's time for the rest of us to carry it on. It gives somebody else the opportunity to step up and get us over the line like he did too many times probably. I don't like to blow his head up too much, but he'd be a massive miss for any club team in any county.”
A difficult task is that bit harder without the former Armagh midfielder but David is relishing what looks like a definitive early test for both clubs.
“We want the big games,” he said.
“Whether it's Harps, Crossmaglen, Clann Eireann, Ballymacnab… There are no easy games so when we saw the draw, we said: ‘When is it? Where is it? Let's get ready for it'.”
In tonight's first round opener, Granemore take on Pearse Og at Abbey Park (7pm). Division 1A outfit Granemore will go into the tie as favourites against a Pearse Og side that was relegated from Division 1B this year with a single win and 14 losses on their record.