Do or die for Armagh against Down

Sunday 30 April – Clones – 4pm

To reach their first Ulster final in 15 years, Armagh have to defeat Down, a third Division Three team in a row.

That’s a deal Kieran McGeeney’s men would have taken beforehand. In terms of ‘easier’ side of the draw, it’s the best opportunity Armagh have had to reach the decider in the last decade and a half.

For the first time since 2008, the Orchard County have won back-to-back games in the Ulster Championship, seeing off Antrim and Cavan to reach the last four.

The preliminary round clash with the Saffron’s went as expected. Division One against Division Three, Armagh bossed the game from start to finish.

Orchard fans were a little bit more apprehensive heading to Breffni Park, but Armagh got the job done.

Their second half performance wasn’t quite up to scratch, but the damage had been done inside the first 35 minutes.

And so, that set up a date with Conor Laverty’s Down, who themselves are on an upward trajectory.

The spirits in the camp will be high after the u-20s, also managed by Laverty, landed the Ulster title on Wednesday evening.

In doing so though, Down sacrificed perhaps their best player in Odhran Murdock and allowed him to play at his own age grade.

Due to the seven-day rule, he’ll be unable to line out on Sunday. That should give Armagh the edge around the middle.

Photo Credit: John Merry

Midfield battle

With Ben Crealey, Shane McPartlan, Jarly Og Burns and Ciaran Mackin all around the centre of the park, Armagh are lined with big men.

Throw in Andrew Murnin who can mix it out around the middle and possibly Rian O’Neill, who’s been named on the bench, and Armagh should have the advantage.

Conor Turbitt has been the main man of the championship so far. The Clann Eireann attacker has nailed 0-15 in two games.

Laverty will surely have a plan for him. If Down can shut him off, then Armagh will look to Murnin, Stefan Campbell and Rory Grugan to step up.

Photo Credit: Richiespics

Defensively, Armagh should have enough to handle anything Down throw at them. Aaron McKay has the physicality to take on Pat Havern.

Ciaran Mackin’s athleticism sees him a perfect match for Ryan Johnston. That leaves Aidan Forker or Conor O’Neill on Liam Kerr.

On paper, Armagh are understandably the favourites. But it certainly won’t be as routine as that. Down will have something up their sleeves.

Will it be enough to deny Armagh a spot in the provincial decider? Probably not. Armagh have waited long enough and their want will be much stronger than their opponents.