Eyeing the Orchard

Photo: Inyourpocket.com

This coming Sunday we’ve the first of three away games in this year’s National Football League. Sunday’s one sees us head north to the ecclesiastical capital of the island to take on Armagh.

Throw-in at the Athletic Grounds is 3.30pm on Sunday, Fergal Kelly of Longford is the ref and the match is being shown live on TG4. If you don’t have a season ticket, then you’ll need to buy your tickets in advance and the word is that they’re selling out fast. The link for buying tickets is here.

As I noted ahead of our spring meeting last year, Armagh aren’t a county we’ve come up against all that much. We’ve only met a sum total of 17 times, with fifteen of these meetings having taken place in the National League.

They’ve the edge over us in those fifteen NFL meetings – they’ve won eight of them, we’ve won five and two matches were drawn – but only one of those games, last year’s encounter at Hyde Park, is in any way relevant in terms of the respective counties’ current playing panels.

We came from behind to win that one by two points and we won too the last time we played them up in the Cathedral City. That was in March 2012, with Aidan O’Shea and Jason Doherty the only players from then still involved for us now.

The most recent time they beat us in the League was the previous year when they had a goal to spare over us at MacHale Park. You have to go as far back as October 1994, though, for the most recent time they beat us at their gaff.

Last year’s loss to us at our Roscommon home-from-home went a long way towards denying the Orchard County a place in last year’s League final. They’d started the campaign, in true McGeeney fashion, like a veritable express train, racking up impressive wins over Dublin and Tyrone and then drawing with Monaghan before that two-point loss to us.

They then beat Kildare and drew with Kerry and were vying with us for the second final spot going into the last round of games. We beat the Lilies at Páirc Seán to make a decider we never wanted to be in while they lost to Donegal by a point.

Ulster was a disaster for them. Paired with Donegal in the quarters, Armagh crashed out, losing by 1-16 to 0-12. Then they got drawn against Sam Maguire holders Tyrone, who themselves had been ejected from the Ulster Championship by Derry, in Round 1 of the qualifiers and it looked like it could be curtains for them.

It wasn’t and instead they went on a run that took them all the way to Croke Park and a bit of Championship history they’d have preferred to avoid.

They beat Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds by 1-16 to 1-10 and, in last summer’s foreshortened qualifiers, earned their place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals by emphatically turning the tables on Donegal, beating them in that Round 2 qualifier tie by 3-17 to 0-16 at Clones.

Then came the fateful meeting with Galway at Croke Park, a rollicking encounter that finished level after extra-time and so had to be decided on penalties. In truth, Galway had been the better team on the day and so probably deserved to win the shootout but neither team deserved to be put in such an undignified position and no way did the Orchard lads deserve to see their Championship run ended in that fashion.

Fast forward to last weekend and Armagh got their 2023 Division One campaign off to a winning start. They made the short trip to Castleblaney last Saturday evening, from where they emerged with a two-point victory. Highlights of that game are here:

That’s all about the past, recent and not-so-recent, so let’s finish with some conjecture about the future, specifically Sunday’s meeting at the Athletic Grounds. It’s time to vote on how you think this one will go.

How will we do against Armagh?

  • Win (55%, 368 Votes)
  • Lose (29%, 197 Votes)
  • Draw (15%, 103 Votes)

Total Voters: 668

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89 thoughts on “Eyeing the Orchard

  1. This is game of the weekend in my opinion.
    I’m intrigued to see exactly where Armagh are and physically they will bring a tough test for Mayo.
    They got lucky in a way against Monaghan last weekend due to a howler from Rory Beggan in conceding a goal.
    What Mayo do to curb the influence of Ethan Rafferty is also worth keeping an eye out for . At times last weekend he was in the full forward line! And kicked a score…
    On a side our ould friend ( or Damian Comers friend!) Tiernan Kelly played last weekend after his winter suspension for eye gouging.
    Should be entertaining anyways.

  2. Great piece as always Willie Joe. You have a special way of setting scene so uniquely for every game.

    Very interested to see how Mayo counteract Rafferty. Surely knowing Mayo’s press from the top he won’t be as hesitant to roam forward. Looking at the Allianz league highlights he had a massive effect on the win against Monaghan. I do remember us picking his pocket a few times in the Hyde last year in his first game between the sticks.

    With Diarmuid going off injured last week it could spell an opportunity for another player to step up. Our forward line is hard working and certainly effective around the middle. Although winning primary possession is crucial facet of the game, there is notable lack of scoring threat there, particularly in our half forward line.
    My suggestion would be to take one of the workhorses (DOC/Carney/Flynn/Tuohy) out and adding in someone with genuine scoring threat (McStay/Towey/Cillian) to get that balance right. Hopefully we will see Paddy Durcan back in the 26 on Sunday also. Will be a great addition to come on when the game is the melting pot.

  3. Is part of the recipe for getting more scores from the forwards having better kickpassers in the half backline.
    We’ve gone with Conor Loftus at centre back.
    Isn’t Diarmuid a more sensible new option there? Diarmuid has played a season for Ballintubber at centre back. He just seems a more suited player to convert than Conor Loftus.
    I worry that our attempt to kick more will be undone by our defenders inclination to run the ball.

  4. JP I couldn’t agree more. Diarmuid is not a midfielder imo. My half back line for the championship if all available would be Patrick Durcan, Diarmuid O’Connor and Eoghan McLoughlin.

  5. It’s difficult to know if there’s an overall strategy in place for the halfback line that we’re working towards, or it’s just a case of putting as much experience in there as possible to protect an inexperienced fullback line.

    I think most of us would agree that Paddy durcan and Eoghan McLaughlin are fairly nailed on championship starters. Until these two are back involved from the start of games, I don’t think we should be jumping to conclusions wrt the longer term direction

  6. I’d prefer Diarmuid back in the half forwards and Jordan in midfield, but there’s an element of horses for courses as well.

    I don’t feel Diarmuid is playing to his best ATM, I think reverting to a position he’s more comfortable in could help him find some better form

  7. Never been to Armagh before so delighted to get the opportunity, their home ground looks lovely aswell and will be near enough full,hope the weather is decent.
    I’m not expecting a result for Mayo here,Armagh are just as fit as us,have a really settled team and system are playing at home and have some brilliant players.
    However as always with Mayo you just never know!

  8. FrostTHammer – Diarmuid played his best football last year at 11 and once he got injured we abandoned that plan. I wouldn’t mind seeing him at 6, 11 or 14 over the course of the league.

  9. Big win for Claregalway knocking out St Colmans in what seemed like an exciting colleges semi final.

  10. I don’t think Paddy Durcan and Eoghan McLoughlin are good kickpassers and would in my view continue us with running the ball too often.
    My half backline would be:
    Stephen Coen Diarmuid Padraig O’Hora
    Padraig O’Hora is a good kickpasser.
    Full backline Paddy Durcan David McBrien Sam Callinane.
    Three pacey, powerful guys in the full backline.

  11. Most of our half-backs are natural runners rather than kickers. We won’t have a kick passer back there of the calible of Galway’s John Daly for example who can spray lovely long passes into the forwards. Maybe this is why they are trying Conor Loftus at 6? To give themselves a better kicking option there. But obviously you have to be able to defend the position as well.

  12. If as it seems we are going to persist with a creative ball-playing type at number 6 I wouldn’t mind seeing Kevin McLoughlin get a runout there. I thought loftus looked a bit lost at times on Saturday (understandable tbf). John Daly plays the role to a tee.

    Looking forward to what should be a cracker in armagh, will be a high scoring one I suspect so another stern test for our defence, armagh tend to score a lot but also concede a lot, they are a lot more open then the other ulster teams

  13. Claregalway are the future Tuamstar, absolutely huge population and catchment out there.. assume they have all the pick of Annaghdown aswell, and maybe some from St.James (those based in Castlegar) and Corofin aswell?

  14. I have a ticket to go to a good home. Unfortunately I can’t make the game myself.

  15. Ah JP, that half back line is as slow as Christmas! Just because we need to kick the ball more doesn’t mean we have to abandon running the ball completely. A mix is needed. Paddy is well able to deliver good foot passes.

    Loftus had a strange game in that the one thing you expected him to do was kick the ball, yet he kept running with it. Diarmuid or McStay should be tried at 11 next weekend. Diarmuid can track Rafferty when he goes walkabouts!

  16. Great article @Willie joe!

    I think mayo are going to surprise everyone on saturday its a tough ask for sure Aagh at home and they are some team.

    I think it will be a high scoring game as many have said. I do think mayo are going to come out blazing at this one with a point to prove. Maybe I am being over optimistic but I just have a sneaking feeling mayo by one or two points.

    Lots of nerves from last saturdays game and mayo will have gotten a boost from getting the draw by Ryan O D amazing last minute point! Maybe I am being biased ha but I still think (hopefully) mayo by one or two points. Aagh are a talented team if we do get the win what a boost that would give us !

    Have to say love Armagh suppprters great craic &lovely people met some before the kerry game after they sadly lost to Galway they gave me&my mate their rain gear and said hope we bate kerry sadly wasnt to be of course haha!

  17. I’ve watched every Mayo match and many on multiple replay and can’t recall one instance of a good Paddy kickpass? But I can countless times he had to turn back and kick a simple pass sideways.
    The half backs I picked are not fast, but Diarmuid is not slow. Another aspect of them is they will hit hard any opposition player breaking forward.
    In Gaelic or Soccer the trend is blazing quick players are generally not that strong kick passing over distance. All the elite soccer passers. Almost none of them really quick.
    Keith Higgins was a good kickpasser, exception.
    We won’t evolve to a kickpassing game with blazing quick runners at half back.

  18. James+Fleming – you can have it. Could you let me have your details or I can WhatsApp it to you.

  19. The quality of the kick pass is only as good as the quality and timing of runs being made by our forwards…. Ryan makes excellent runs and is well able to win the 50/50s.
    With a few newer members on the team it takes time to build an understanding between backs and forwards but I think as our team gets a more settled look lads will build an understanding and we can pop in those kick passes with more accuracy . We need several forwards making runs in each play…some as decoys to free up space. So I think to try and settle on the bones of a team and give them time to gel and build understanding through the league,is the way to go.

  20. I think Jordan Flynn could make the perfect centre back – his reading of the game.,tackling etc could be tremendously effective although I also believe he is needed in a midfield role as I believe himself &Ruane were beginning to form a very effective partnership & really complimented each other.
    O Hora also looks like he could be effective in that centre back role with that aggressive style of his

  21. Paddy Durcan is one of our better scorers. Couldn’t see the sense in putting him in full back line when he is one of the best attacking half backs in the country.

  22. I see UL are playing the Sigerson cup semifinal in Carlow next Wednesday 08th Feb. Eoghan Mcloughlin and Jack Coyne should not be even travelling to the game in Armagh this Sunday. If they do – they will end up playing 4 games in 11days – in Castlebar, Galway, Armagh and Carlow. This is a recipe for picking up injuries. Give lads like Sam Callinan, Donnacha McHugh etc game time up in Armagh.

  23. The full back that played for Meath last weekend hails from a Junior B club. Just food for thought. Boylan was famous for getting players from Junior clubs.

  24. Paddy durcan into midfield i reckon. With matthew. Diarmuid touhy and flynn in half forward line.

  25. Soccer is highly professional in scouting for at least 10 years and yet, Brighton and Brentford are managing to recruit undervalued talent.
    They manage to ‘underpay’ because they buy players from small often midtable or struggling clubs. Quite often there is no obvious high quality playing record to the players they buy.
    So it comes down to the quality of their recruitment strategy and the expertise involved.
    Hoping players announce themselves with very obvious standout performances would seem not all encompassing. A defender with a midtable intermediate club is unlikely to really get all that announced. Even moreso if the player didn’t play minor or u20.

  26. This is a extremely hard match for us. While Galway at home or away is usually a hard nut to crack. I feel Armagh in Armagh, is a bridge to far for an novis Mayo team. But a win away, could do this team a world of good confidence wise

  27. Man of the match McColgan for Donegal against Kerry last sunday on his first game for the county plays for a junior club Muff in division 4. Just Saying.

  28. Interesting about Cian Hanley, Achill. He’s a year younger than the 2013 minors (Diarmuid, Coen, Loftus etc.) so there’s time for him yet. If he puts his mind to it, he could be a very positive addition to the 26.

  29. Mayotilidie, Your spot on, a bridge too far is the best way of putting it. Armagh have come a couple of rounds too early for us. A fixture against one of Monaghan/Donegal/Roscommon would have suited us far better for R2. All them are under new managers aswell and not a settled outfit like Armagh. I fully expect us to be bottom of the table with Monaghan on Sunday evening. Then we have Kerry lamding with their big guns in two weeks time!. League is all about momentum, and I genuinely beileve our last home game will be a relegation do or die against Monaghan.

  30. @Margie don’t agree your entitled to your opinion of course. No one gave mayo a chance on sat said we would be slaughtred by Galway.

    Yes Armagh will ne a tough test for us but I think they will surprise everyone.

    Certainly do not think we will be in a relgation battle at the end . I give them more credit then that ha

  31. Espcially as the league is so important now with the new format mayo will be trying to stay near the top and be giving it their all to do so.

  32. Dont see any reason why Mayo csnt beat ARMAGH ON Sunday.
    They made a great comeback against Galway last year but were out of the game for long periods.

  33. https://youtu.be/zUVBHrNWlLs see 43.36
    James O’Donoghue and Paddy Andrews analysis on Mayo forwards and our forward play was pretty depressing but very truthful , no bullshit calling out the same forwards who havent done it for a few years now, shooting bad wides and balls dropping short , no scores in our half forward line , players not able to take on there man.The decision to drop Fergal Boland was a crazy one, one of the few half fowards who is a playmaker and can score from play.
    Leaving out ROD our 6 starting forwards only scored 1-2 against Galway nowhere near good enough.Hopefully Paul Towey gets a chance on starting 15 Sunday.

  34. @Achill fergal bowlam hadnt been picked by horan either must be a reason and fergal bolamd came out and said it himself to great hurling player though.

    Heard that about the podcast but yet we still got a draw against Galway? Very young team who were nit given a chance against Galway.

    Wouldn’t be listening to them on it but thats just my opinion each to their own . We will see how we do when we get our best 15 on the pitch.

  35. Heard that alright Achill75. Ironic because I think those two were also saying on the same pod how easy it is to knock a forwards confidence with negative comments! I’ve been critical myself of our forwards, but I try to call it fairly, how I see it.

    I’m not making excuses but I think the media negativity has gotten into the heads of many a Mayo forward down through the years. Being told “you’re not good enough” etc. I genuinely believe Pat Spillane intentionally did this to Mayo, knowing full well it would have the intended effect. Especially coming from a Kerry great.

    There’s no doubt that more than any other county in Ireland, more than any of the top teams, it’s always been said that “Mayo just don’t have the forwards”. It undoubtedly gets into their heads, especially in an amateur sport. Of course we have the forwards. You simply don’t reach 11 finals without having very good (or even excellent) forwards.

    Is anyone seriously saying that a McCurry or a McShane are better than Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor? Yet the two Tryone men absolutely flourished on the biggest day. It’s no excuse to simply say that we had Dublin to contend with. We had our chances before the Dubs were at their peak. Granted, we were very unlucky that Cillian was injured in ’21, and obviously Andy was gone then. But we still had Tommy and Ryan…..

    No, it’s all psychological in my view. Almost entirely. A massive suffocating weight that’s only getting worse. I hope McStay can work some magic. God help him.

  36. @Claire, I really hope you are right!!!.

    Outside analysis is always better, we tend to be over sensitive on our own. Its not nice to name players, but at least 1 starting forward from last week should be dropped. Time to give someone else a chance. James Carr needs to bring more consistency and add more points from play, he’s well able to do it, so hope Kevin and co can bring it out of him.

  37. In all 13 All Ireland finals (counting replays) Mayo have been in since ’89, NOT ONE of our forwards ever flourished. Not once. No good getting a couple of points, I’m talking about really taking the game by the scruff of the neck, being the game-changer, the match winner. They’ve never came close to reaching their potential in a final. Whereas our backs have.

  38. Complaining about our forwards again!!!!!!
    We gave away 2 goals last week and if it happened to a juvenile team you were coaching you would be pulling your hair out.
    Get the backs,like the foundation of your house right first.

  39. Exactly JR. Maybe if we kept a clean sheet in one of the finals over the last decade or more we’d have had a better chance of winning?

  40. @Margie so do I maybe I being overly optomistic but rather that then thinking we are doomed :p ? and as they say you just never know with mayo! Haha

    @Liberal role in the tie I agree it must get into their heads when they hear all the negative comments.

    Espcially from pats spillane I agree I think he did it on purpose he used to wreck my head altogether don’t want to be naming people like that but he was a bit OTT on mayo and saying we haven’t a snowballs chance of ever winning an Ireland well really haha

  41. Probably don’t need to be going over this again but it’s unfair to put it all down as a lack of forwards many would say it was soft goals conceded by the defence that cost us games. @liberal. Regarding not 1 forward flourishing you only need to go back to the last all ireland final to see a forward flourish and still not win.

  42. @JR agree they are really stupid goals to let in ! Its a team that wins the all Ireland not just forwards.

  43. Thats not right Andy Moran played really well in the 2017 Final on Mike Fitzsimons, we were ahead when Andy came off.
    If you cant score from play as a forward in 2 or 3 games you should be dropped , end of story.
    Paul Towey should get a full 70 minutes for 3 games at least, more of the top club forwards outside of panel should be tried in A v B training games names like Darren Quinn, Conor Diskin, James Durcan, Brian Reape ,James Shaughnessy, and Dylan Prendergast.

  44. Achill75 ,don’t you think that they have been,we have months of preparation everything will have been tried

  45. I think paul Towey has huge potential. Get a fully fit James carr and no injuries I think he also has huge potential he’s been really unlucky with injuries.

    Be interesting to see how Tommy C goes when he comes back but I think he’ll need time to come back to 100% the way he was pre injury great he’s back in training he’s young so he’ll bounce back .

  46. It’s well within this teams ability to sneak a narrow victory on Sunday. How many times over the past few league campaigns have we headed north in the early rounds not expecting to fare too well yet coming away with the 2 points? Despite us having a less than complete and functioning forward unit right now, we still have enough quality in all other positions to compete hard. I would not be surprised at all if we get something out of this game.

  47. 45 – I’d be quietly confident heading to Armagh too. I’m sure the team and management had more than a few nerves before the Galway game. New management, big home crowd etc. Losing to our neighbours in that situation would have put us on the back foot straight away. I think we’ll get a better performance this weekend.

    Also, Armagh only beat Monaghan by 2 points despite being handed a goal. If people think we give up soft goals, this was on a different level!

  48. I think Andy got 3 points in that final in 2017 Achill75?? He certainly didn’t have an outstanding match. Nothing close to it, no matter what your measure is. In fairness he absolutely ran himself into the ground that day and his last kick at the posts in the final quarter was as tired an effort as you’ll ever see into the Hill. He simply had no more to give. Unfortunately his best came in the previous matches. But you’re right to mention Fitzsimmons. He’d put a halt to the best of forwards. Andy did fine, but Fitzsimmons probably was happy he held him to 3 points. I’d say he considered that breaking even.

    I’m genuinely not criticising Andy, I’m just saying that we haven’t got that very special performance from a forward in a final. That’s a fact. You’d think out of 13 opportunities that the odds would throw up at least one instance. Our forwards have done it in quarters and in semis but not in finals.

  49. Andy was brilliant in the 2017 final in my opinion. Scored 3 points from play, fed Leeroy for his goal and he assisted at least one point for Cillian in first half too. Ran out of steam, but a brilliant performance.
    Incidentally, our full forward line I think scored 9 or 10 points from play that day.
    2017 was the final when we can really have no regrets in terms of performance, the lads just came up a whisker short (red card obviously didn’t help)

  50. To be fair we don’t see too many out of this world forward performances in finals in recent times from any side, even from Dublin. Andy’s performance in 17 was as good as any from Kilkenny or Brogan for example in Dublin’s wins.

    This year of course being the exception, but the performances of Walsh and Clifford were probably the best individual ones this side of the millennium.

  51. Our Here Comes the Weekend pod went online on Patreon overnight. Mike is joined by Billy Joe and special guest Aaron Kernan on it and there’s also chat from last Saturday night with Ciaran Murphy of Second Captains.

  52. When your team loses it’s easy to say the forwards weren’t good enough. Andy also got 1-2 from play in the 2013 final. Cillian got 4 from play in 2020.

  53. If you look at the scores from play in all Ireland finals by our 6 starting forwards and forward subs that came on – I suspect the scoring return from play is very low and a good bit behind the teams that beat us in finals.

  54. Southmayo Exile – no doubt that’s true. Along with the fact we generally concede more goals than the opposition in finals, many of which came from our defensive errors. Just think it’s way too simplistic always putting blame on the forwards.

  55. Have not listened to the football pod yet but i find their analysis is usually fairly good. I have to admit i felt the same on Saturday if you took ROD out of the forwards the rest did not contribute much from a scoring sense, James Carr with a terrific goal early, and you hope he then really pushed on and scored 1-4/1-5, think we would love to see some consistency from him instead of flashes of his obvious talent. Personally i think he plays to far from goal if you think of his 2 great goals against Galway both came from him coming on to the ball from deep, if he is full forward i would prefer him to be winning ball in around the D, i think his movement needs work for that to pay dividend, maybe hes not comfortable with his back to goal.

    However in saying all that about our forward play the last night, its a bit like the expression “if you get the name of getting up early, you can stay in bed all day!”, maybe i’m wrong but i’m fairly sure no Galway forward scored from play in the 2nd half, (Kelly the full back a goal, Cooke & Comer 2 frees, and Conroy a midfielder 1 point from play) I think the last score by one of there forwards from play was Paul Kellys point straight after Tierneys goal, so they went circa 50 minutes with no forward to score from play…….now imagine the narrative if that was the Mayo forwards.

  56. Kerrys success last year was built on solid defence. Paddy tally was drafted to shore it up.
    Organised. We gotta sort that out.

    Kellys goal the last day is a case in point. 2 guys got drawn out to the ball carrier and kelly walked into open space. Little things like that need ironing out. So time and hard work and im hoping we can solidify our defence.

  57. Looking for 1-4 or 1-5 from James Carr from play? Jese be realistic. That’s a David Clifford on form type of return.

  58. James Carr outscored any of the Galway FF line from play the last night. He outscored Finnerty, Comer and Walsh from play in the championship game last summer. He also scored 2 goals in his only other start vs Galway in championship.

    Yet he’s not consistent enough for some.

  59. Time for McStay to put out his best team from now on, let them get used of each others play and know each others strong points and become a unit. Kerry and Dublin always play their strongest available 15. Changes can be made in second half depending on how the game is going. He must have seen enough games and training sessions by now to know his best 15 and next best 6 subs.

  60. James Carr doesnt really put up big numbers for Ardagh in Junior champiinship football.But open to crrection on this?

  61. Hello All,

    Like most was relieved last week with the Galway result. From what I have seen on TV, then and the FBD, would like to see Aidan starting.

    Did travel to Armagh the last time and can only describe Aido as immense in bad conditions. I recall that Mayo would not have won without him.

    Surely he is worth a start in a such a high pressured atmosphere and would be a great strength to the relatively new.

    As always, just a thought, from a non expert.


  62. Ciaran, if they intend to use him as a target man they must give him game time and send proper ball into him.

  63. It must be the strongest team we can field atm so I won’t be saying they should change anyone as the others are clearly not fit enough or they have a reason. Team did well enough against Galway bar the stupid goals that where let in .

    I looked back at the match after and the Galway player genuinely looked surprised that he got such an easy goal in the goals kill us think we all know that now though so I won’t go on about it haha!

    Best of luck to the guys !

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