17 JAN 2019
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Donegal will provide tougher test - McGeeney

10 January 2019 - by Elaine Ingram

It’s three from three for Armagh and a McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal awaits Kieran McGeeney’s men on Sunday after they topped their section by seeing off Monaghan in their most testing game yet.

While it all looks great on paper, McGeeney, pictured top, is well aware that the toughest tests are ahead, and the Donegal game will really show where the team that he’s been building over the past four years is at.

“Donegal will probably have a fuller hand to deal with on Sunday compared to Monaghan, so we’ll not be going home celebrating but it’s still good to be competitive,” said the manager.

“I think when you’re at that level, even your second team is strong. They play with a different sort of swagger. They were the Ulster Champions last year and they pushed every team they played in the Super Eights as well. You’ll even hear the Donegal players saying themselves that this is the strongest panel they’ve had, and that’s with two of their best players Neil McGee and Michael Murphy not there yet. So, it’s a big step up for us, but that’s where you get tested,” he admitted. 

“We’ve been trying to build things over the years. It’s a process. It’s different in other counties when there’s carrots at the end of the stick and then when a county starts doing bad the clubs get stronger and things like that and it’s hard to get a balance between both. In fairness, the clubs in Armagh and the County Board have been very accommodating, so over the last number of years we’ve built up a lot of players that people wouldn’t have probably seen. The likes of Paddy Burns and Jemar Hall from Forkhill, Ryan McShane and Joe McElroy and Jarlath Og [Burns], players like that are just starting to come through that people wouldn’t put in the same league as Stefan [Campbell] or Jamie [Clarke] and Ethan [Rafferty]. But that’s what we’re trying to build. Everyone has to fight for their position. There are no superstars. And in fairness the group we have are like that. But we’re not under any illusions either. We’re out of the third division. We’ve been touching on the last eight this past couple of years but we’re still not at that quality yet,” he cautioned after Wednesday night’s victory.

Armagh trailed by a goal at the break, but they were lucky at that because they were pinned back for the most part and they were guilty of either standing off their men or giving away countless frees with a combination of rash challenges and clever tactics from the Farney men.

Mark Shields got Armagh off to a good start with a point within 30 seconds of throw-in but in the second minute Jack McCarron raised a green flag from the penalty spot. Frees from Thomas Kerr, Jack McCarron and David Garland made it 1-3 to 0-1 on 14 minutes but Armagh dragged themselves back into the game with points from Rory Grugan, Stephen Sheridan, pictured bottom, and Stefan Campbell, who was named Man of the Match for the second time in a week, to make it 1-4 to 0-4 with 27 minutes on the clock. Thomas Kerr was sin binned after that for a block on Ryan Kennedy and while Armagh weren’t being bullied off the ball so much by then, they still couldn’t take advantage of the extra man and traded scores between Campbell and Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan made it 1-5 to 0-5 at the interval.

Two frees from Niall Grimley and two super points from Aidan Forker put Armagh in front and that set the tone for the second half. Clarke scored his only point of the game sandwiched between Monaghan frees but he was sent off for a second yellow before the finish.

Kennedy and Rian O’Neill scored a couple of good points as Armagh led 0-12 to 1-9 with a tense five minutes left in store until Clarke set up Campbell for the last point of the game to book their spot in the semi and steer the course for the season ahead.  

MATCH STATS

Armagh: Blaine Hughes; Ryan Kennedy (0-1), Aaron McKay, Connaire Mackin; Mark Shields (0-1), Greg McCabe, Aidan Forker (0-2); Stephen Sheridan (0-1), Charlie Vernon; Niall Grimley (0-2, both frees), Rory Grugan (0-1), Jarlath Og Burns; Stefan Campbell (0-3), Jack Grugan, Rian O’Neill (0-1)

Subs: Jamie Clarke (0-1) for J Grugan (19mins), Joe McElroy for Vernon (53mins), Pearse Casey for Sheridan (67mins)

Monaghan: Rory Beggan (0-3, all frees); John McCarron, Kieran Duffy, Ryan Wylie; James Mealiff, Barry Kerr, Gavin Doogan; Fintan Kelly, Conor Boyle; Thomas Kerr (0-1, free), Jack McCarron (1-3, 2f), Dermot Malone; David Garland (0-1, free), Darren Freeman, Stephen O’Hanlon

Subs: Vinny Corey (0-1) for Mealiff (H-T), Owen Duffy for Freeman (42mins), Micheal Bannigan for Kerr (55mins), Drew Wylie for Doogan (61mins), Dessie Mone for John McCarron (61mins)

Referee: Barry Casssidy (Derry)

 

PICS: John Merry

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