Allianz National Football League Division Two: Armagh v Meath (Saturday, Box-IT Athletic Grounds, 6pm)
ARMAGH showed courage to come from four points down and pip Louth at the post in their opener but they’ll hope for a more convincing and fluent performance on Saturday evening.
Colm O’Rourke’s Royals began their campaign with a home draw against Fermanagh and needed a late equaliser from Eoghan Frayne, the pick of their forwards, to get it but they’ll need better to win in front of a packed house in the Cathedral City.
Both counties have room for improvement but points on the board is what matters at this time of year and, with three away trips in their final five fixtures, Armagh need to make home advantage count.
Ethan Rafferty, Rian O’Neill and Andrew Murnin remain absent and their attacking energy and scores were missed against Louth. Jason Duffy, Oisin O’Neill and Jarly Og Burns are named on the bench as Peter McGrane and Oisin Conaty (debutants last week) keep their starting spots.
Greg McCabe, who continues to look solid in the centre half-back position, says Armagh expected a baptism of fire in their opener against Louth. That’s exactly what they got.
“We knew it was going to be a tough start,” he said.
“Louth are a big, physical side and what we got off them we expected. We’ll try and get promoted as quick as we can but every game will be difficult - you’ve Armagh, Donegal, Meath, Kildare, Cavan, Louth and you’ve got Cork and Fermanagh and they’re all good teams. I think it’ll go down to the wire, down to the last game.”
Meath won their first two games in Division Two last season but their man-on-man tactics were quickly exposed and they finished third-from-bottom, a point above the relegation zone. O’Rourke’s men exited the Leinster Championship at the quarter-final stage but they did find their feet and won the Tailteann Cup.
“They will be looking at promotion and they’ll have their eyes on coming up to the Athletic Grounds and getting a win but we need to perform and get over the line,” said McCabe.
“We’ve always got it tough against Meath – I’ve played against them twice and I’ve lost twice so hopefully I can get on the winning side this time. If we play into their hands, if we slow the game down and get into contact, they are a team that can turn you over and punish you on the other side of the field. So it’s how we control the game, game-management will be massive and taking our scores. All we want are two points and then we move on.”
A fresh-faced 28, McCabe has been on the losing side in some edge-of-a-knife games over the past couple of seasons. Tight as it was, edging out Louth by a point was significant for Armagh and he hopes the pendulum continues to swing Armagh’s way as this season unfolds.
“In the last couple of years we’ve been disappointed with just not winning,” he said.
“We want to get back into Division One and playing the top teams. Ulster is massive for us, we want to get to another final this year and hopefully get over the line and pushing through to the All-Ireland.
“We’ve seen there’s a number of teams that can win it – it’s not just Dublin and Kerry, it’s stretched out now to maybe four or five teams. We have a difficult campaign ahead but I’m looking forward to it and I want to keep fit and push myself to be the best.
“I want to do whatever it takes to get our team over the line. It’s all about winning for the team, I don’t care too much about myself, as long as we’re winning that’s the main objective.”
A quarter-of-a-century has passed since these counties met in a feisty All-Ireland semi-final. Armagh’s hour had not yet come and Meath won and went on to lift the Sam Maguire.
The Royals have been a bogey team for Armagh down the years but they haven’t beaten a team from outside the bottom two divisions in a year. So, although they are missing some key personnel, the Orchardmen have to start as favourites to win at home and continue their promotion push.
Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, C Higgins, P McGrane; B McCambridge, G McCabe, A Forker; B Crealey, Ciaran Mackin; C O’Neill, R Grugan, J McElroy; S Campbell, C Turbitt, O Conaty