FROM ODHRÁN CRUMLEY
ULSTER SFC 2017 QUARTER FINAL
Down Vs Armagh
Pairc Esler, 2pm
Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)
The last round of this year’s National League could not have sprung further contrasting emotions for both counties. Deep into injury time it looked assured that Armagh would pass Down en-route to Division two as the latter would be relegated to Division Three. Seconds later a Michael Quinlivan goal for Tipperary ensured his side would take the Orchard’s promotion place while a late Jerome Johnston free in injury time down in Cork ensured the Mourne men would survive to play Division Two ball next Spring.
However league form accounts for nothing come the bright lights of the championship, even less in the Ulster Championship and even less again in derby games like Down-Armagh. The Orchard County come into the game hoping to make it six championship wins in a row against the old foe. The last coming in 2011 as Down having contested the previous years All Ireland Final came to the Athletic Ground’s only to leave with their tails between their legs.
Six losses in a row to their rivals is not the only piece of unwanted history Eamonn Burns’ charges are looking to avoid. They haven’t won a championship game since beating Derry at Celtic Park in 2013 a run they will want to end this Sunday.
Defences definitely have not been in the case of both counties this Spring with Armagh conceding a total of 9-75 while Down conceded 10-82, the regularity of which both defences have conceded goals points towards the net being rattled at least once this Sunday. McGeaney’s men have been the more potent in front of goal hitting a total of 15-103 compared to Down’s 3-85 the latter admittedly plied their trade in a higher division.
Eamonn Burns has saw his defensive options plunder in recent weeks due to injury with McArdle and McGleenan amongst the long term injury list. As a result young Downpatrick defender Anthony Doherty will make his way onto the starting fifteen having never played at inter county level before.
Armagh have received massive boosts on the injury front with Jamie Clarke, Ethan Rafferty and Andrew Murnin all returning to the side. However they will not have the presence of manager Kieran McGeaney on the side-lines as he continues his lengthy ban.
The inexperience around the Mourne men’s back lines could prove to be the deciding factor on Sunday as they come up against arguably one of the meanest inside forward lines in the country. Campbell, Clarke and Murnin would prove a handful for any backs and it is with the winning of the game will lay.