Friday 15 November 2019

McDonnell eager for Orchard to progress

Liam Kelly

MID-table they may be, but neither Kerry nor Armagh are likely to produce a mediocre performance in their Allianz Football League Division 1 clash at the Armagh Athletic Grounds tomorrow.

Just four points for each team from four outings is a nice incentive to push on, particularly after the two sides won against Galway and Mayo respectively last Sunday.

But a touch of 'old spice' thanks to the history between the sides, notably the 2002 All-Ireland decider and 2006 quarter-final, should freshen the atmosphere, particularly with the likely introduction of Paul Galvin at some stage in the match.

What wouldn't you give to have the players miked up so you could hear the 'banter' on the field between Galvin, who was sent off in the '06 game, and his opponents -- particularly given his higher public profile since the last time the two teams met?

Other interesting sideshows will be worth watching, especially the contest for most scores between Colm 'Gooch' Cooper, who's in flying form for the Kingdom, and Armagh ace Steven McDonnell.

Indeed, McDonnell's first close-up encounter with the Gooch came in the 2002 final when the then 19-year-old Killarney kid was let loose in his senior football debut year to romp his way through championship defences.

Armagh had their own 19-year-old star that epic day when they claimed their only Sam Maguire Cup to date -- Ronan Clarke.

Clarke is on his way back from an Achilles tendon injury and his eventual return will boost the championship prospects for the Orchard men.

The respective managers, Paddy O'Rourke of Armagh and Kerry's Jack O'Connor are playing a straight bat in the build-up, but both men had to be happy with their team's victories last weekend.


O'Rourke saw his men take a six-point half-time lead away to Mayo, score only four more points against a very strong wind in the second half, and still emerge as winners by three points.

"Every couple of points is very valuable, but when you get a couple away from home, they're probably more valuable," he said.

"We're very happy that we got the points. There were a lot of parts of our game we were happy with and a few things we did that we weren't happy with, but in a game of football, especially this time of year when it's blustery and wet and the pitch is very heavy, that's to be expected.

"We put up a good score and we defended well.

"We showed a lot of character in the second half. We got a few very good scores and we did enough to win the game," was his verdict.

One aspect O'Rourke will want to see improved against Kerry, particularly with the Gooch hovering in the vicinity of goal, is avoiding any needless concession of scores.

The Mayo goal just at the end of the first half last week gave the Connacht side fresh impetus for the second half, and said O'Rourke: "It was a very bad goal to concede."

Now it's a new day and a new challenge against the Kingdom and McDonnell is looking for further progress from himself and the team.

McDonnell contributed six points, four from frees at McHale Park, but took himself to task for a couple of missed opportunities from frees in the second half. "Personally, I was happy enough," he said.

"There were a couple of frees in the second half that I didn't make count, but it's something to work on for the next day.

"The main thing for us was that in our situation, it's very important you pick up points, and against Mayo we had a very tough match, so we were delighted to get the two points.

"The two games we lost (Dublin and Down), we had opportunities in the second half of both to kick on and win and we didn't do it, but we dug deep against Mayo and came out fighting hard.

"We feel we have a fantastic panel of players. It's a 20-man game now in any match and certainly the subs that came in for that second half did their job to a high level.

"We're looking forward in the next couple of weeks to having Ronan Clarke and the Crossmaglen lads back, and we feel they'll certainly add to the team as well," said McDonnell.

One newcomer who's settling in nicely is Mayo native Billy Joe Padden.

Padden has started each of Armagh's four games to date, and has done well, but he was pleased to stay on the pitch for the duration against his home county and to get the win.

His challenge is to convince O'Rourke that he will be worthy of a championship starting place against Down on May 28 at the Athletic Grounds -- and so far, so good.

"I'm enjoying it. It's great to get in and meet a new bunch of lads. It's a slightly different style of football with Armagh but I'm enjoying the football and the training," he said.

McDonnell had words of encouragement for Padden after his four league outings.

"I think Billy will take great joy out of the way he played against Mayo, and he'll certainly work to build on that.

"We're delighted that he's a part of our team and we feel he can add a lot to us," said McDonnell.

Irish Independent

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