The week since our Round 2 qualifier meeting with Down has passed so quickly and we’ve already reached the day on which our next knockout tie will be played. Armagh are our opponents in this do-or-die showdown meeting, with the match at MacHale Park throwing in at 7pm this evening. Maurice Deegan from Laois is the ref.
Every round of the qualifiers carries its own dangers. We should know that because our qualifier record shows that we’ve been eliminated from the Championship in every single one of those rounds down the years. That’s a fact, by the way – check it out if you don’t believe me.
The only time we ever lost in Round 3 was, of course, twelve months ago in Newbridge when Kildare dumped us out. So we know full well about the perils of Round 3 before we square up to Armagh this evening in Castlebar.
The loss of Diarmuid O’Connor during the week was a bad blow, especially coming hot on the heels of Mattie Ruane’s season-ending injury. While Diarmuid hasn’t been performing all that well of late – and was particularly subdued in Newry – he still has the potential to be a big performer for us. No team wants to lose the services of its captain at this stage of the campaign.
But we have lost him and we have to plough on regardless. Diarmuid’s misfortune has opened an unexpected door into the first fifteen for young Mikey Murray, for whom this evening is a huge one. Here’s hoping it’s a debut to remember for the Stephenites clubman.
Armagh are tricky opponents. They can play a bit and they’ve a strong forward unit, one that could, if it gets going, do us considerable damage. They’ll have seen what change Down got from a combination of hard running and pumping high balls in and you can be sure they’ll come with plans to exploit our backline in a similar way. If we’re as hesitant at dealing with this threat as we were in Páirc Esler we’ll quickly find ourselves in bother this evening.
But the Orchard County, while an improving team, are far from the finished article. They have injury problems themselves and they’re not as watertight at the back as Down were. Their shooting can at times – based on what I saw of them in the Down and Cavan games – be a bit on the wild side.
Still, every qualifier match is difficult in its own way. We’re not all that sure what kind of threat they represent, they’re probably scratching their heads about us too, not least given the four changes we’ve announced for this one, which come hot on the heels of the five alterations we made in naming the team for Newry. By the way, the team we’ve named to start tonight contains just nine survivors from the one that lined out against Roscommon last month.
Last year’s Round 3 crash-out felt, in retrospect, like it was always going to happen. We’d simply run out of road. Mind you, in the lead-up to Newbridge there was no inevitability about our impending defeat, which, when it did happen, came as a major shock. It was only when we’d processed it did the narrative switch to one where something like this was always going to happen at some point to us.
Heading into this Round 3 tussle, I don’t sense that the same outcome is out there lying in wait for us. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t either. Armagh are a decent side – like Kildare were last year – and coming into this tie off the back of dumping out Monaghan they won’t lack for confidence.
You get the feeling that we don’t, as yet at least, have the same bounce about us. We’re in survival mode and survive is what we’re aiming to do tonight.
Will we? We’re favourites to win the game so you’d have to think we’ve a good chance of doing so. As ever, we’ll only win if our performance is at the required level and we’re able for whatever Armagh will bring to the party.
For what it’s worth, I think they’ll bring plenty and so our display will need to be a few notches up from the Down one. If it is, we should be okay to make it through this one and be in the hat once more on Monday morning.
Safe travelling to everyone on the roads today. Hopefully there’ll be a big boisterous Mayo following in Castlebar this evening and that they’ll have plenty to shout about both at the game and afterwards. Let’s get this done. Up Mayo.