Excitement builds as NFL semis approach
IT’S HARD to believe that as we approach the last game of the National Football League, only one of the semi-finalists in division one and none of the relegation victims have yet been decided.
At this stage, any of the remaining six teams could get into the semi-finals and any could still go down, though Cork look an unassailable bet to get into the top four. At least, that’s what I think, though allowances have to be made for my chronic maths blindness.
This is the best thing about top fours. It gives every team a purpose as they enter into the last match. Mayo, on paper, are in the most precarious position with fixtures against Dublin and Kerry to come, but given the fact that the Kingdom are home and hosed, it is fair to assume that Jack O’Connor will give the new lads a try out in the last match with nothing at stake and this just might rescue the Mayo men.
Back in 2010, they also benefited from this sort of last match generosity when Cork handed them a victory in Pairc Uí Chaoimh in the final game knowing that this would put them into the final against Mayo themselves and keep Dublin out of the decider. They returned to Croker the following weekend for the final and we witnessed one of the most one sided finals ever as Cork, in front of about five hundred of their supporters won by double figures.
If Dublin beat Mayo, they enter the semi-final stages too, so their last match against Cork will be a tame affair because both teams should be in the semi-final. This leaves all the others battling for either a place in the semi, relegation or the twilight zone in between. At this stage, it looks like Mayo and Laois, but Armagh have a tricky assignment away to Donegal so a defeat here could send them packing, while victory will see Donegal go down.
Meanwhile, if Donegal beat Armagh they stay up and keep Down in Division 1 also because in the head to head, they beat Donegal. Meanwhile, if Laois beat Down by five points or more, Down are for the drop and Laois stay up, presuming that Mayo win both of their games. I’m starting to get a headache now.
On Saturday evening, Armagh beat Down in a thrilling spectacle at the Morgan Athletic Grounds. While the game was played at championship pace in front of a massive crowd and at a high standard, victory was great, but tempered somewhat by the injury to Pete Carragher.
Pete is a Silverbridge man and many of our club hopes for the future rest with his power and precision from midfield. He is very young to be starting in county senior, but showed none of that lack of experience during the 20 minutes he was on.
He had scored a long range point and was combining well between the forwards and defence, constantly getting forward and channelling back, playing the classic midfield role. This is his second leg break in a year and he had surgery on Monday. Hopefully he’ll be back sooner than we think.
The game itself was full of all that is good about local derbies and was exceptionally refereed by Maurice Deegan. For Armagh to have five points on the board with no Cross men and Mal Mackin out injured is a great achievement. Paddy O’Rourke now faces into the Donegal match with everyone available again and it will be interesting to see how the Cross lads fit in.
Last year they returned for the baptism of fire that was the Galway match when we got our heads handed to us by a team that had already been relegated. This one will be an even more vital match for Armagh and we should begin to see the emergence of the team Paddy would like to line out in the championship. For this reason, a trip to the semi final would be an incredible bonus and give at least another run out for the team he would like to line out in the championship.
Saturday itself promises to be a very special day indeed for south Armagh gaels with Cross getting another go at Garrycastle and our school, St Paul’s playing Ardscoil Rís in the Colleges B final beforehand. The school is on tenterhooks all week and the excitement round the place is palpable.
For those intending on travelling to Breffni on Saturday, I would urge you to go a little earlier and support us. It is a historic occasion for the school and the clubs in the area who have provided the talent which will be on display. If Cross, St Paul’s and then St Michael’s Enniskillen win, it will be a great few weeks for Ulster Gaels.