Familiar foes Armagh and Roscommon to meet in Nickey Rackard Cup
Nickey Rackard Cup round one: Armagh v Roscommon (tomorrow, Athletic Grounds, 2pm)
THIS will be the third meeting of these two teams within the last month, with the scoresheet so far reading one win apiece.
When they met at the Athletic Grounds on March 6 with both sides flying high in Division 3A of the National League, it was Roscommon who came out on top by the narrowest of margins.
Less than three weeks later, and the sides met again in the division semi-final to determine who would face off against Tyrone for a shot at promotion. It was Armagh who shaded the contest that afternoon at Dr Hyde Park, with the Rossies reduced to 13 men.
The Rossies were leading by three points at half-time that day, but Armagh reeled them in and were on level terms by the end of the third quarter. The loss of Roscommon's influential centre-back Pádraig Kelly to a straight red card and the black carding of goalkeeper Noel Fallon for a challenge on Nathan Curry did the Armagh cause no harm. With the game in the melting pot, Shea Harvey's goal five minutes from time enabled the visitors to pull away and to set up a promotion shoot-out against their close rivals.
The final against Tyrone last weekend was another close run affair, with the table topping Red Hands edging the contest at Owenbeg by two points.
The arrival of Antrim legend Terence McNaughton to take the reins in the Orchard county has obviously given all concerned a boost. McNaughton replaced Pádraig O'Connor, who stepped down after that first encounter with Roscommon, in the Armagh hotseat and he will be keen to continue the early bounce with victory tomorrow afternoon.
Shea Harvey and Fiontainn Donnelly have been among the star performers for McNaughton to date, while Dean Gaffney (1-4) and Nathan Curry (1-3) both stepped up to the mark in that league final against Tyrone.
Armagh reached the semi-finals of last year's Nickey Rackard Cup, where they suffered a heavy defeat to Mayo, and they will be keen to go one better this time around. With the likes of Tyrone and Donegal to face, that will be a tall order but they would do well not to look past the challenge of the Rossies.
The Connacht men will still be smarting from that semi-final defeat and, with the likes of Cathal Dolan, Mickey Joe Egan and Brendan Mulry already doing damage against the Orchard this spring, this could be another close encounter.