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13 July 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column

Armagh hopes are rising

As his hero emerged once more from amid a ruck of bodies, the ball clutched greedily to his chest, the Armagh man beside me pointed joyously to the object of his affections. "Jaysus boys. Francie is in danger of been made Man of the Match".

So well and confidently, and even rakishly, did the man from Cross play that at one stage he was spotted wandering just out past the 40-yard line. Gazing in wonder at his exotic surroundings. Like a young David Livingstone floating down the Zambezi River. Paul McGrane, I think it was, turned around to order your man back to the edge of the square. Indeed McGrane might have been no more surprised had he met Zinedine Zidane out there. Mind you, I don't think old Zizou would have lasted long.

Francie had a huge game at full-back, as did most of the defenders on both teams. The difference was that Armagh took one of their sparse goal chances while Donegal did not. Donegal also arguably made things easier for the Armagh full back line by adhering rigidly to the old fashioned tactic of playing the full forward line on top of the square. That gave them few options against men who relish close quarters and the front six only had three points from play. The Armagh tally was twice that.

The crucial score was the goal from Paul McGrane two minutes into the second half. The midfielder's finish gave Paul Durcan little chance. Donegal kept trying and might have had an equalising goal deep into added time but it was not to be. Armagh have their third Ulster in a row and, as rivals fall away or seem exposed, their hopes of a second All Ireland must be rising.

One of those rivals to depart at the weekend was Tyrone. In a tough, dogged match played in terrible conditions, Laois displayed admirable tenacity and courage to come back after their d(r)ubbing in the Leinster semi-final. Ever since their opening match against Derry, Tyrone have looked vulnerable. The absence of Peter Canavan and a series of injuries seriously depleted their potency and one had the feeling that some team was going to catch them in the qualifiers.

Another leading contender to stumble, but not quite fall, was Kerry. Cork led them by six points late in the first half only to lose Anthony Lynch who was sent off for a retaliatory elbow in the direction of Kieran Donaghy, who was himself later dismissed. The period immediately following Lynch's departure was crucial as Kerry scored three quick points to leave just three between them at the break.

A Kerry victory at that point seemed likely but they showed little enough improvement in the second half, even with the extra man. They did eventually erode Cork's lead and even went ahead late on with a Bryan Sheehan point. James Masters equalised for Cork and the replay takes place in Cork.

There are other fascinating encounters at the weekend as the football championship reaches the business end. Laois will have no respite from their heroic endeavours against Tyrone as they have to face Meath in Navan. Not one to place the house on, but I would have a small fancy that Meath will prevail.

Wexford, also fresh from a nice win over Ulster opposition, have to face Fermanagh in Enniskillen. As I write, there is still uncertainty as to whether Mattie Forde will be available. If he does not play, Wexford have little chance. If he does, they might win. Such is the value of the man from Kilanerin.

Sligo meet Westmeath at Markievicz Park. A hard one to call but home advantage might swing it. Longford and Derry meet for the first time in championship football and Derry will be strong favourites following their easy win over Kildare. However, Longford have since proven that their good display over Dublin was no fluke and it would not be a huge shock if they were to win.

Three provincial titles are up for decision. If Kerry improve at all they should beat Cork in the replay. In Connacht I tipped Galway way back to make an impression this year and they are possibly the bet of the weekend to overcome Mayo at Castlebar.

And of course there is Dublin and Offaly at Croke Park, renewing an old and warm rivalry in a final for the first time since 1983. In my memory it always had a much more bitter edge than Dublin and Meath, and with none of the fondness that combatants and observers recalled of the latter with the mellowing of years. Defeat for Offaly was too painful a reminder of an historically unequal relationship. While for Dublin it was tinged with lese majestie.

There is little reason to suspect that Sunday will be any different. Anything might happen. Two or three years ago Dublin would have faced this with a good deal of nervousness. Now, they probably have a bit too much for Kevin Kilmurray's men and barring a catastrophic collapse brought on by some unforeseen calamity - no doubt already being concocted in a backroom in Rhode - Dublin will prevail.

Finally, I note that last week my colleague Frank Farrell "wrote" a piece in which he referred to us denizens of the Metropolis as "those arrogant bastards" before posing the question: "But will Dublin really win the All Ireland?"

I think I got that email too. Which is what the delete button is for. Until of course Frank's team meets the blue delete button. Oh, maybe someday in the Fall. If they last that long of course! Frank's team. Not the Dubs.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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