Off the Record by Oisin McConville

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

I THINK the championship draw, for both Armagh and Down, is as good as it's going to get, as far as first games go.

Kieran McGeeney will be looking to get his first win in Ulster, as getting Fermanagh in the first round is a pretty good draw in my view. I know they have new management and there'll probably be a bit of a bounce factor, as you do get with new coaches and management, but realistically, it's a game Armagh should be winning.

Should they win that, there's obviously a really tough game in the shape of Tyrone or Monaghan after that, which will be as tough a semi-final as you can expect. Armagh should get out of the first round, but at this moment and time, Tyrone and Monaghan are far and away the two strongest teams in Ulster, so you get with one hand and it's taken away with the other.

However, this is the level that you want to be pitting yourself against now, but I'm sure for some Armagh there'll still be residing memories of what Tyrone did to us in Croke Park last year, which was a sickening result, so I'm sure a lot of the Armagh players will be looking for a bit of vengeance for that game should they meet Tyrone but, as the old cliché goes, you just have to look at the next game first, and that's Fermanagh.

I think that Tyrone and Monaghan are that bit ahead of everyone in terms of their development and the players that are coming through at youth level. Obviously Donegal will improve under Declan Bonner, so I'd expect some kind of rejuvenation but Tyrone and Monaghan are two top teams in Ulster at the minute.

I think that Pete McGrath had done a good job at Fermanagh because he has the innate capacity to instil the players with confidence and I know for a fact that a lot of the Louth players are looking forward to playing for him. I don't think that it was his fault that Fermanagh didn't get to the next level, I think it was the fact that they just didn't have the players to bring them there. Rory Gallagher, however, will bring a very professional team with him, in terms of what his back room set-up will bring to the county.

Down have had a really good draw being pitted against Antrim and being put in the weaker side of the draw. They're playing Division Two football, so they're continually playing at a higher level than Antrim and, as well as that, they should take a lot of confidence from the run that they had last year. If Down get over Antrim, they have an opportunity of a semi-final against Derry, Donegal or Cavan and I think that they'd take that right now.

I think right now there's a pretty level playing field between those four teams so it's an opportunity for Down to cement what they did last year as, realistically, with a few extra bodies I think they could've got over Monaghan last season.

I think that they've a few players from the Kilcoo side that they could introduce into the squad, plus they'll have the benefit of having a fully-fit Jerome Johnson for the whole of the season, so that will be a big boost for them.

Overall, for Armagh, getting out of the Division Three is a must and should be their main objective, whilst the Down faithful will be looking for their side to consolidate on what they done last year in maintaining their Division Two status and getting a good Championship run which, looking at the draw, they're more than capable of doing.


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