Armagh should have no fear of Derry trip

Things were very, very different the last time Kieran McGeeney led his Armagh troops out onto the Celtic Park turf. It was the opening round of the 2020 Ulster Championship, played behind closed doors in early November.

Armagh had just earned promotion to Division One, not so dissimilar to this time around. Derry however, under the guidance of Rory Gallagher, finished third in Division Three and missed out on promotion.

Fast forward to this weekends group stage clash and Derry, with Mickey Harte now at the helm, have two Ulster titles in their back pockets and are the reigning Division One National League champions.

Yet despite their recent success and incredible transformation, Armagh will be confident heading to Celtic Park. It’s hard to know where the Oak Leaf County are at present, having lost their only two championship games.

Sure, bad lucky and poor decision making comes into it, but are they as good as they were built up to be pre-championship? They certainly have plenty of quality and talent, but do they have much more than Armagh?

Last year’s Ulster final would suggest it’s fairly tight between the sides. Sure, Derry collected the Anglo Celt that day in Clones, but it was after penalties. They didn’t actually beat Armagh on the field.

They have the medals and that’s the important things at the end of the day, but that game can also give Armagh not only confidence but added motivation. Plus, a win here will enhance their chances of topping the group.

Star men

Rian O’Neill has returned to the starting team, joining Ben Crealey at midfield, and their battle with Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers will be key. Rogers did move into the defence against Galway, so it could be Emmet Bradley lining out at centerfield.

Derry have had their own injury concerns and Paudi McGrogan is sidelined for the rest of the year. Eoin McEvoy and Conor Doherty (both named to start) didn’t see any game time the last day out.

Photo Credit: Sinead Snaps

And of course they will also be down Gareth McKinless, who is currently suspended. Looking at the respective substitute benches, Kieran McGeeney holds all the aces in that regard.

Armagh will expect a reaction from Derry, who have gone from hero to zero almost overnight. They’ll come out swinging, especially on home turf, so Armagh will have to be prepared.

But Celtic Park doesn’t hold the same aura that some away grounds do. Derry have already lost a championship game there this year. While Harte’s side will be slight favourites, Armagh won’t fear their opponents.

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