Armagh primed for breakthrough win against Kevin McStay's Mayo at Athletic Grounds
Allianz National Football League Division One: Armagh v Mayo (tomorrow, Box-It Athletic Grounds, 3.30pm, live on TG4)
By Andy Watters
ARMAGH got the job done in Castleblayney last Saturday night and, although there were a few nervy moments towards the end, getting two points was all that mattered.
The Orchardmen were five points up and seemed in control but Monaghan, as you’d expect on home soil, came surging back and it took a late cameo from Stefan Campbell to see Kieran McGeeney’s men over the line.
Job done yes but that bad habit of running hot and cold continues to undermine Armagh and it cost them victory when Mayo hosted them at Dr Hyde Park last year.
Three up with the final whistle looming, two points were there for the taking but Armagh lost their way and Mayo found a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They scored the last five points and won by a couple and that win meant they pipped Armagh for a place in the Division One final.
In their 2023 opener, Mayo hosted neighbours Galway in Castlebar and began Kevin McStay’s tenure as manager with a point after a 2-8 to 1-11 draw. Mayo’s goal was an absolute screamer from full-forward James Carr who slalomed through the Tribe defence and smashed a shot off the crossbar from 30 yards.
Carr is motoring very well and with last year’s injury problems behind him, Belmullet’s Ryan O’Donoghue remains the main man in the Mayo attack and with his Ulster links – his mother is a native of Bryansford - he will hope to impress tomorrow. He could have support from the start from Cillian O’Connor who, like fellow veteran Aidan O’Shea, was introduced in the second half at McHale Park.
With Jordan Flynn, Matty Ruane and Diarmuid O’Connor all quality operators, Mayo are very strong across midfield and they will cause Armagh problems if they get a handle on Ethan Rafferty’s kickouts. On the flipside, the Westerners have hurt Armagh in the past with their running power out of defence but there has been a changing of the guard since last year - Lee Keegan has retired, Oisin Mullen has gone to Australia and new skipper Paddy Durcan missed last weekend’s opener with injury.
The defence that took the field against Galway had a rookie look about it. Galway’s first goal was a routine long ball into the square and the Mayo defence disintegrated when Sean Kelly scored the second.
The Mayo rearguard will find Armagh’s forwards a real handful and Rian O’Neill has all the tools to give full-back David McBrien a tough afternoon of it. O’Neill is the spearhead and Tiernan Kelly, Aidan Nugent and Campbell all showed well against Monaghan.
The Orchardmen will also have talented Conor Turbitt available. Turbitt missed out last weekend serving a one-game suspension that dates back to the All-Ireland quarter-final versus Galway at Croke Park and will hope to play his part.
Greg McCabe was hit with a two-game ban against Galway and so he remains on the sidelines and midfielder Ben Crealey and defender Ciaran Higgins are out with injuries.
Mayo have Tommy Conroy on the way back from injury and they could do with his pace tomorrow but the game may come too soon for him.
Armagh came mighty close to taking Mayo’s prized scalp last year and back in 2019 when an All-Ireland Qualifier teetered on a knife edge but they lacked a killer instinct and the Westerners grabbed wins with late flourishes.
Mayo’s losses in personnel since then mean Armagh now look like the stronger team and they should get the job done this time. The Orchardmen get the nod to win by three points but they rarely do things the easy way.