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Off the Record by Oisin McConville

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

IT was great acknowledgement for Armagh and Down footballers for Jamie Clarke, Connaire Harrison and Caolon Mooney to be shortlisted last week for All-Stars.

When you look at it, there's a distinct possibility that they mightn't get an All-Star, but it's nice to be nominated. Getting rewarded for your performances also shows that your county and your team are moving in the right direction, so, in that respect, it's a sign of progress.

When the Championship started, there was a hell of a lot of negativity surrounding both Armagh and Down and, really and truly, we couldn't have seen either team get to where they got to, so the fact that they both exceeded people's expectations says a lot about the fortitude of both sides. Personal awards means that the county has done well, and I think those guys would agree that that's the most important thing.

All three of those players left some sort of mark in the Championship, so each of them are very worthy of their nomination. An All-Star nomination can really act as a catalyst to spur players on, as well as providing motivation for their team-mates, who'll see that and think there's a great opportunity for them to get nominated as well and provide a bit of hunger for players to do a lot more work in pre-season.

It's usually the guys who don't win All-Stars that kick on the following year and want to prove something. Caolan Mooney, if you were to single him out in particular, should take a huge amount of heart out of getting shortlisted, because he found it difficult at times since his return.

A lot of people would say that when players go to Australia that it doesn't really happen for them when they come back, but he's starting to find his form again and then some- so I give a huge amount of credit to him.

For the first time in recent years, there's a a bit of optimism surrounding both Armagh and Down football after their respective Championship campaigns.

Armagh's primary objective should be to get out of the quagmire of Division Three because, as I've said before, if you want to be competing for an All-Ireland you have to be playing against better opposition through the year.

Down will be aiming at consolidating this season and doing a bit more than just surviving and relying on results to go their way on the last day like last year.

On Sunday we've got a potential classic on our hands between Burren and Kilcoo, and I feel that Burren might have the measure of them this year. They've been really sickened by the series of losses at crunch times against Kilcoo over the years - as they've managed to beat them in the league or in the earlier rounds of the championship, but fallen at the final hurdle - but I believe there's something a bit different about this Burren side and their whole demeanour.

They possess a bit of steel and a willingness to play the kind of football that's necessary to win and maybe, at times, goes against the grain of their traditions, and I think that could prove the difference. Both teams will be hungry for different reasons; Burren to finally beak their championship hoodoo, and Kilcoo to get another crack at an Ulster title. Traditionally, Burren have always played more attractive football than Kilcoo, but they seem to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to win this year, so, for that reason, I fancy Burren to edge it.

In the Armagh Championship, each of the semi-finalists are going to quietly fancy their chances of winning it, because none of the teams stand out as being so far ahead of the pack this year. When Maghery won it last year, it made a lot of teams sit up and take note and I think that has resulted in it being a very open draw this year, which is for the greater good of Armagh football.

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