Daunting challenge faces Roscommon in Crossmaglen

National Football League Division 2A: Roscommon v Armagh at Crossmaglen on Sunday at 2.30 pm (Referee is Pat Fox from Westmeath) Seamus Duke Roscommon’s young team, who have been unlucky only to have gathered one point from their three outings in the National League so far, face a long trip to Crossmaglen to play Armagh in what is now a relegation battle given that Armagh have just two points themselves from three outings thus far.   On the face of it this looks like an easy victory for Armagh but circumstances in Armagh coupled with Roscommon’s improved showing in recent games against Meath and Cork gives the Rossies hope as they prepare to travel north.   Armagh are a team in transition. In the Joe Kernan management era they enjoyed almost ten years at, or very near, the top of the gaelic football tree -however when Kernan decided to step down last year it signalled the end of an era and new manager Peter McDonnell is finding his feet as the new man in the Armagh hot-seat.   Lest any Roscommon follower think that this is an ageing Armagh team it must be remembered that The Orchard County won the All-Ireland U-21 title in 2004 and many of those young players are now making their way on to the senior team.   Roscommon will field much the same team that lined out against Cork and against Meath in their last two games. Geoffrey Claffey will continue between the posts and he has been in good form in the past two games. Captain  Seanie McDermott returns to the full-back line for this game and his presence will surely be a boost to the team. Anthony McDermott and Paddy O’Connor have both done well in recent games and they will have to be in top form this Sunday as it is likely that they will be facing the experienced Stephen McDonnell and Ronan Clarke in that sector.   The Roscommon half-back line is a young but very talented one with all three members on the U-21 team and David O’Gara, Enda Kenny and David Keenan will have their hands full with players like Martin O’Rourke, Tony Kernan and others who have made their way on to this Armagh team. Oisin McConville will be back on the Armagh panel for Sunday but it is not known if he will be on the starting line-up.   Midfield will again be crucial. Karol Mannion and Mark O’Carroll have been in good form for Roscommon and at the time of writing it was not certain whether Paul McGrane would be eligible to play for Armagh. His presence would be a huge boost to the home side. There are plenty of Armagh options and Malachy Mackin is certainly a young player with a big future in that sector.   Roscommon’s attacking players have done well in their last two games, scoring fifteen points in both of them. A return of fifteen points would certainly be enough next Sunday but every game is different.   Gary Cox, Frankie Dolan and Cathal Cregg form a very potent half-forward line and they will have to be on top form on Sunday if Roscommon are to have a chance of taking the two points. Frankie Dolan will be under pressure to do well on Sunday and he will need all his experience against an excellent young centre half-back in Ciaran McKeever.   Johnny Dunning has done really well at full-forward in the last two games and he could face the formidable Francie Bellew on Sunday as the Crossmaglen ace is due back on the Armagh panel for this game. Failing that it looks like Enda McNulty might be the full-back for Armagh. Ger Heneghan’s frees will be crucial and Senan Kilbride will have to do his bit too.   Armagh have a lot of players returning to their panel. Certain to be involved are the three Kernan brothers, Tony, Aaron and Stephen. Ciaran McKeever will be centre half-back, Malachy Mackin will be playing at midfield with Paul McGrane if he is free. Oisin McConville, Francie Bellew and the O’Rourke brothers, Martin and Aidan, are also likely to feature strongly and in the full forward-line Ronan Clarke and Stephen McDonnell will be a huge threat to Roscommon.   Armagh have struggled to get back to anything resembling the form which made them one of the top teams in the country over the past decade. They scraped past Cavan in the first round while they were well beaten by Westmeath and they were very unlucky against Monaghan in front of a huge crowd in Clones in the last round. Worryingly for Roscommon the Orchard boys seem to be improving and they certainly have loads of experienced players in their ranks. However confidence is low following two defeats and I knmow that the narrow loss to Monaghan the last day was particularly galling for Armagh.   It would be foolish for me to predict a Roscommon win in a place like Crossmaglen where there have been very few victories by visiting teams over the years but if John Maughan’s team can show the same type of enthusiasm for the game that they have shown in the past two games against Meath and Cork then they will not be far away. It is worrying to report that two of our best young players, David O’Gara and Cathal Cregg, are both carrying injuries into the game. Roscommon fans will be hoping that both will be able to take a full part in proceedings.    Roscommon players will be hoping that the weather, which has been so bad over the past week, will improve as this young Roscommon team needs to play in fair conditions given their youth and lack of physicality.   It is a pity for Roscommon that Armagh have lost their last two games as they really need the two points on offer. It will mean that they will be really up for this game as a defeat here would be a disaster for them. I am hoping that Roscommon play well but the points will probably be staying in Crossmaglen. Prediction: Armagh.