MATCH PREVIEW: Time for Armagh to deliver

By Shaun Casey

WHEN all the names were placed into the hat on Monday morning, Armagh knew they could only draw Roscommon or Louth as they’d already clashed with Galway and Ulster rivals Derry in the group stages.

No matter what happened, the Orchard faithful were going to be buoyed by an ‘easy’ draw but on further inspection, avoiding one of the big hitters in the All-Ireland quarter-finals hasn’t always worked out for the men in orange and white.

Armagh fans were praying for Monaghan last year. There was delight when drawn against Galway in 2022, avoiding the big three of Dublin, Kerry and Derry at that time. Look how those two occasions worked out.

Go back to 2008, the last time Armagh captured an Ulster title, and Wexford in the last eight was supposed to be a cakewalk. Fermanagh in 2004 needs no description at all. While Armagh avoided a couple of tougher tests, Saturday’s clash with Roscommon won’t be easy.

That all said, Armagh still head into the game as heavy favourites to reach the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time since 2005 and given the trajectory this team has been on over the last few years, the timing feels right for them to make that jump.

The Anglo Celt has eluded Kieran McGeeney’s men in the past two seasons, losing to both Derry and Donegal on penalties, while their seasons ended via the same method in 2022 and 2023 against Galway and Monaghan respectively.

But this crop of players has showed serious resilience to battle their way back into contention for the big prize following every fatal setback and they’ll relish an opportunity to show what they can do on the big stage at Croke Park.

Armagh have the perfect blend of youth and experience. Rory Grugan and Andrew Murnin were both All-Ireland winning minors 15 years ago while Aidan Forker and Stefan Campbell are well versed in the demands of intercounty football, having played for over a decade.

Oisin Conaty and Peter McGrane were both given their chance at the start of the season and the two youngsters have held onto their place in the starting 15.

Aaron McKay has been one of their standout players this season and his contribution probably goes under the radar, but he has been influential at the back and remains a key player.

McKay, along with Barry McCambridge, are usually the go-to man-markers in the Orchard rearguard and if there’s one thing that Roscommon are going to bring, it’s that scoring threat up top.

The problem Roscommon pose that a lot of other teams don’t is that they have more than one or two marquee forwards and in the modern game of plus ones and defensive shapes, it’s almost impossible to man-mark them all.

McKay will pick up Conor Cox on the edge of the square and the Dromintee man has the physical strength to deal with that challenge. McCambridge could go toe-to-toe with sharpshooter Daire Cregg.

If Greg McCabe starts, he may shadow centre half forward Diarmuid Murtagh, who kicked 0-4 from play against Tyrone last weekend.

If McCabe doesn’t come in from the start, that job will probably fall to Joe McElory.

Then there’s the Enda Smith debate. A pretty common rule of thumb over the past few years has been that if Smith is marked out of the contest, then Roscommon won’t win the game. But he could line up anywhere from midfield up.

Ciaran Mackin would have been the perfect opponent to blot him out of the game but in his absence, Niall Grimley could be the one to pick up Smith and he’ll be detailed to follow him wherever he goes.

Davy Burke will have plenty of headaches of his own when plotting the downfall of the Armagh attack, with Conor Turbitt the main man so far for the Orchard County and he’s been shooting the lights out.

But it’s their first All-Ireland quarter-final since 2017 and they’ll be eager to prove they deserve to compete at this level, and they’ll certainly not be turning up to Croke Park just to make up the numbers.

But for Armagh, it feels like this is their time to make the breakthrough.

If not now, when? They’ve been knocking on the door so aggressively for the past few years, now is the opportunity to take that next step.

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