It’s be almost 70 years since Armagh and Mayo crossed paths, with the westerns coming out on top in that 1950 All Ireland semi final. Mayo went on to win their second Sam Maguire that season and Mayo fans will hope they can recapture the ultimate prize if they can make home advantage count against Armagh this weekend.
The Orchard County will have other ideas as their mission of reaching the super 8s is still very much alive and a win over Mayo would be recognised as Kieran McGeeney’s biggest achieved in the banisteoir bib as Mayo remain 4th favourites to dethrone and disrupt Dublin’s ‘Drive for 5’.
Aaron Kernan believes that Armagh stand a great chance of upsetting the odds and a win for his county side would help this Armagh team finally fulfil the potential that they have shown in glimpses for the past number of years, “Armagh have been talked about this past few years but have maybe flattered to deceive in that we are a coming team”.
“I think that if you were to knock Mayo out of the championship, the country would sit up and take notice. If you beat a top team like that you can’t put into context what it does for the playing group, the believe that will actually come of it for the players would be better than anything they could have experienced to date because anyone who has been playing county football or particularly all these younger boys coming on to the Armagh team”.
“We’ve all been sitting looking at this Mayo side the past 8 or 9 years and had nothing but admiration for them. The amount of times they’ve kept coming back and how hard they’ve pushed Dublin in All Ireland finals but now to get the chance to go up and play them and try and beat them and knock them out of championship completely, there’s no better challenge you could get as a player”.
Armagh will be assisted by Mayo’s recent injury crisis, Diarmuid O’Connor the latest name on a long list of casualties in the Mayo changing room. O’Connor’s brother Cillian has yet to return to full fitness, likewise Tom Parsons and Seamus O’Shea while new prospect Matthew Ruane suffered a season ending collarbone break.
“Mayo are well stretched around the middle of the field at this stage and particularly Diarmuid O’Connor, if you think back to the heroics where he ran himself to a standstill last year against Kildare whenever everyone else was off form, it shows how important he is to them so definitely it’s a huge boost to Armagh that he’s not playing and I think it evens the contest up a wee bit more than it had previously been”.
There’s no doubt Armagh will only improve facing division one opposition, Mayo being their 4th division one game of the championship and the Crossmaglen native believes this will bring on a young Armagh side, “Particularly getting the win over Monaghan would have given them huge confidence because it’s a long time since we’ve actually beaten them in championship”.
“The fact that Armagh went out and beat them and beat them so comprehensively will be brilliant for the group. The news came through Monday morning of the draw and it just added to the excitement, it’s another big day out. I personally would much rather get a big draw that excites the group rather than heading to play in a more low key affair, with all due respect to other counties.”
The fact that there is no recent history adds to the excitement of the contest according to the former young footballer of the year, “I think that adds to the whole thing, the fact that we’re playing them in a knockout game now and that it’s in Castlebar, it makes it more unique. There’s no history there whatsoever, I wouldn’t say it’s a team on the up against a team on the way down but definitely Armagh are a coming team and you can see that through their performances and they have quality players who are just growing into county football. I do believe this is the start of something positive for Armagh but I would be reluctant to write off this Mayo team as a team that are on the way down”.
Although an impossible game to call with any certainty, Kernan sees Mayo just stealing the victory, “I think it will be very close, I definitely think Armagh have the forward line to trouble them. My heart is obviously going to say Armagh but I think in a really tight contest, which it’s going to be, I think Mayo’s overall experience of the big day might just shade it for them”.
“The huge experience that they would have gained the past 8 or 9 years might just be enough to see them over the line in a real tight contest. I think we have the better forwards and they still have some of the top, marquee defenders in the game, how they fair out against each other, the match ups, who can win the individual battles, will be vital. Reluctantly a narrow Mayo win but I’m expecting nothing in it and a great contest”.