Monday 23 April 2018

Six first-season managers to go head-to-head as the qualifier cull continues

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney along with assistant manager Martin McQuillan
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney along with assistant manager Martin McQuillan
Wicklow manager Johnny Magee
Down's Jim McCorry
Wexford manager David Power
Louth manager Colin Kelly
Leitrim manager Shane Ward
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Two first-year football managers, Turlough O'Brien (Carlow) and Tom McGlinchey (Waterford) have already had their seasons ended.

And they will be joined by three more on Saturday as the unforgiving All-Ireland qualifiers continue with their cull, which will have accounted for eight counties by Sunday evening.

Intriguingly, six other managers in their debut seasons clash in Saturday's three football qualifier ties.

The fourth 1B game is on Sunday when qualifier specialists Tyrone host Limerick in Omagh.

The first-season head-to-heads are as follows:

Kieran McGeeney (Armagh) v Johnny Magee (Wicklow)

Their last big clash was as opposing centre-backs when Armagh beat Dublin in a SFC qualifier in Croke Park in 2003.

The odds again favour McGeeney, only this time by a bigger margin, even if Armagh's resistance to Donegal in the Ulster quarter-final was flimsy.

Saturday's test would be far more difficult for Armagh if they had to travel to Aughrim, but on home ground, they appear to have all the aces. Wicklow drew with Armagh in the Athletic Grounds in the 2011 qualifiers and lost the replay at home but had a very painful return up north two years ago when they lost to the Orchard men by 25 points after scoring just two points. It was something of a freak result and while the winning margin will be much smaller this time, it looks likely that Wicklow's season is about to close with one win from nine league and championship games.

It's a good draw for McGeeney as Armagh need a relatively straight-forward assignment to banish the bad memories from the misfire against Donegal. Question is: will it sort them out for the biggest tests?

Jim McCorry (Down) v David Power (Wexford)

McCorry had high hopes of being in the Ulster semi-final against Donegal in Clones on Saturday, rather than taking Down's second championship chance all the way to Innovate Wexford Park.

However, a one-point defeat by Derry wrecked that ambitious plan.

Even allowing for Down winning promotion to Division 1, it would be a dreadful end to the season if their championship bid ended against opposition that were relegated to Division 4 in April.

Mind you, Down will be very wary, having lost to Wexford by eight points in their only previous qualifier clash in Croke Park in 2008. Of course, Wexford were a far more formidable force back then.

The current Wexford set-up has had serious defensive problems all season (average concession of 18.5 points in league and championship), leaving Power with a huge challenge if his first season is not to end with just two wins from nine games.

Colin Kelly (Louth) v Shane Ward (Leitrim)

Kelly called for patience in Louth as early as their first game in the O'Byrne Cup in January, pointing out that the county was heading for a rebuilding phase which, most likely, would take quite some time.

Three months later, Louth slipped into Division 4, after losing five of seven games. It was followed by a seven-point defeat by Westmeath in the Leinster Championship, leaving Louth desperate for a qualifier win to rescue the season. Getting home advantage is a plus, especially against opposition that finished mid-table in Division 4.

Leitrim's relationship with the qualifiers has been very unstable, yielding only one win in 14 seasons. It leaves Ward with a sizeable challenge in his first season.

Irish Independent

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