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Armagh start favourites but are Roscommon peaking at right time for All-Ireland quarter-final?


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All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Armagh v Roscommon (Saturday, Croke Park, 4pm, live on GAAGO)

GAA people have long memories. Last weekend’s preliminary round results meant Armagh could only get Louth or Roscommon in Monday’s quarter-final draw.

“Louth are an oul bogey team for Armagh,” observed a wary supporter as he dipped into the vast reservoir of near-misses and disappointments in his head.

In any event, the Rossies came out of the hat on Monday and, although it’s a draw Armagh would have taken your arm off for at the start of the year, memories of Wexford 16 years ago will keep their fans’ feet on the ground.

It’s 16 years ago now since Armagh travelled to Croke Park for an All-Ireland quarter-final against the ‘Yellowbellies’. Hopes were high, Armagh were expected to win but Mattie Forde ripped up the script with 1-5 on the day.

Armagh didn’t make it to the semi-final and they haven’t made it to one since (they haven’t made the last four since 2005, Roscommon since 1991).

Instead of Forde, Roscommon have the likes of Diarmuid Murtagh, Donie Smith, Daire Cregg and Conor Cox and the Rossies might also have taken this draw at the start of the season.

After all, they started the year in Division One, while Armagh had to navigate their way out of Division Two.

A high ball is contested between Tyrone and Roscommon
Roscommon’s Robbie Dolan (4) moves in to win a breaking ball against Tyrone last weekend. Pic: Margaret McLaughlin

Armagh were promoted, Roscommon went in the other direction but they have circulated in Division One company almost exclusively this year. After relegation from the top flight they met Mayo in the Connacht semi-final and tangled with Dublin and Mayo (again) in the All-Ireland group stage. They lost both games but beating Cavan in round three, and posting a season’s-best 3-20, saw them make the preliminary quarter-finals.

Going to Omagh to face Tyrone was expected to be beyond them last weekend but the Rossies served notice that if opponents treat them lightly they will live to regret it with an impressive first half performance and then dug in after the break to win by two points.

“We’ll go to Croke Park full of confidence,” said manager Davy Burke.

“We were playing a very high level of football for a long time and I think that went a little bit under the radar.”

Meanwhile, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney said his team was “in a good place” for the quarter-finals after they recovered from five points down to force a draw against Galway in their final group game. That result earned them an extra week of preparation/rest time and has allowed Burren defender Paddy Burns to regain full fitness.

Burns, Peter McGrane, Aaron McKay and Barry McCambridge will have marking jobs on Roscommon’s stylish forwards and, if they can limit their influence, they have the firepower to win this game.

Evans will have noted how Galway sat deep for Blaine Hughes’s kickouts a fortnight ago and then turned Armagh over as they ran the ball. The Orchardmen look best when they press kickouts and get the ball forward quickly but they’ll have an eye on the Roscommon attack because a goal for the Connacht men will really shake this up.

The Rossies’ camp is confident and optimistic but Armagh’s should be too. The Division Two final is the only game the Orchard County have lost this year and that was a sort of three-quarter effort. Even then Donegal won by a single point.

Armagh’s progress this season has been built on very solid defensive foundations and only two teams (Cork and Down) have found the Orchard net. Up front Conor Turbitt has looked as good as any but apart from the Clann Eireann forward, the Orchardmen haven’t been totally convincing in front of goal although they showed the ability in the team with 13 different scorers in the 11-point win over Derry at Celtic Park.

There are men on both sides who will see this as a golden opportunity to make the last four and they’re old enough to know it may not come again. We’ve seen Armagh struggle with big-game pressure in the not-too-distant past but if they perform you’d fancy them to win this with a bit to spare. Anything less and we’re in for another nailbiter.

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, P McGrane; B McCambridge, T Kelly, A Forker; N Grimley, B Crealey; O Conaty, R O’Neill, J McElroy; R Grugan, A Murnin, C Turbitt

Roscommon: C Carroll; N Higgins, B Stack, R Dolan; D Murray, R Daly, E McCormack; E Smith, R Fallon; U Harney, D Murtagh, S Cunnane; D Cregg, C Cox, D Smith

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