Armagh face familiar territory this weekend as they continue their championship season with an away draw in the qualifiers. The Orchard County came out the wrong side of a two game war against Cavan in the Ulster semi final and now enter another battle against Ulster opposition Monaghan.
Armagh supporters will welcome another day out in Clones, their third time visiting the Monaghan town in four weeks after not seeing the famous turf since 2014; however they know how close they were to making the same journey for this year’s Ulster final instead of a round two qualifier clash.
Armagh midfielder Niall Grimley believes the Cavan saga threw up a lot of learning curves for his Armagh side, “Being four points up the first day, killing out a game would be a major talking point and something we need to learn and that’s what we need to take into this game against Monaghan at the weekend. If we do get ourselves into a situation like that, we’ll be able to kill out a game”.
Armagh have experienced the back door route quite often over the last few years so they know what it takes to win on the road, as they have overcame sides such as Sligo, Westmeath and Tipperary all away from home. In fact, since Kieran McGeeney took over the reins of his native county, they have played 11 games in the qualifiers, only 4 of which have been played in the Athletic Grounds.
Grimley knows the back door route can boost confidence and build momentum within a group, but Monaghan are not a team to be pushed around, “Probably in previous years in the qualifiers, some people might have felt we played the weaker teams and obviously this Monaghan test will be a lot different”.
“Monaghan are a division one side for the past 5 or 6 years, they’re going to be smart, they’re going to be experienced, they know what it takes to win and we have a mountain to climb this Saturday evening. We know it’s going to be one of the toughest tests we’ve had this year. We played them in the McKenna cup and we just about scrapped a win against them, so Monaghan will be no pushovers. They’ll be coming ready but hopefully we can get the job done and get the result. We’re feeling good and we’re looking forward to it”.
Grimley feels that facing division one opposition such as Cavan and Monaghan can only bring his side on in years to come as Armagh strive to get back among the top teams in the country, “that’s where we want to be, you want a seat at the top table, that’s where Armagh football needs to be and it was but we’re just working our way back there”.
“The higher you are in the league and in the divisions, that’s only going to bring everybody on, the better standard of football. Short term you might lose a game but if you’re losing a game against Dublin by a couple of points, the learning you’re going to take from that will only bring everyone on and push everyone forward”.
While Armagh stroll into Clones town with the underdogs tag hanging over them, the Madden man pays no attention to the bookies odds and believes the idea of underdogs and favourites will swiftly be removed once the ball is in the air at 7pm on Saturday evening and everything will be a level playing field.
“It wouldn’t really bother me too much, its 15 vs 15, obviously Monaghan are division one, we’re division two, that’s probably where the underdog status is coming from. We know what Monaghan are going to bring, they’re going to be hot and heavy but we’ll hopefully match them and if not do more and get across the line on Saturday night and get a win”.
A win over Monaghan would be huge for Armagh and is certainly not beyond their reach. The return of veteran Brendan Donaghy will stable the defensive side of things while they will again look to the likes of Stefan Campbell, Rian O’Neill and Jamie Clarke to keep the scoreboard ticking over at the other end of the field.
Grimley and his midfield partner Jarly Og Burns will look to dominate around the centre of the park as this is an area where Monaghan seem to be struggling at the minute with Darren Hughes suspended, while it remains unclear whether Niall Kearns and Kieran Hughes have returned to full fitness after missing a substantial amount of game time during the league.
All in all Armagh will feel they can outscore Monaghan as long as they can curtail the threat of Conor McManus who after two championship outings has only scored six points, four of which have been from dead balls. Cavan and Fermanagh both shut down the Clontibert man with great success and if Armagh can do the same then their forward line should be good enough to see them through to the next round.