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Armagh primed for a winner-takes-all game this weekend

Nicky Rackard Cup round three
Longford v Armagh
Saturday, Glennon Brother Pearse Park, 1pm

The Orchard county hurlers take on Longford, as the victor will gain automatic progress to the next round of the Nicky Rackard Cup.

Manager Padraig O’Connor said: “We are in a knockout game. It’s winner takes all. It is a difficult place to go (Longford). We beat Monaghan by six, Longford beat Monaghan by three. Warwickshire beat Longford by three, and we drew with Warwickshire. It will be close. We are not expecting anything easy. It is a final game to qualify for Croke Park.”
Armagh have a frustrating history with the Nicky Rackard Cup. They have been finalists five times, but have won it only once, in 2010.
This year they went into the competition eager to win it, but their result against Warwickshire suggests that it is not going to be easy.
It took a good deal of hard work and character for Armagh to earn a draw against Warwickshire a fortnight ago.
After a game in which Warwickshire had dominated, Padraig O’Connor’s team played better in the second half. Dean Gaffney hit some important points from the dead ball. It was Danny Magee’s goal that gave them the lead late on, however the game was far from over.
A speculative ball into the Armagh area found Jack Lynch, who is originally from Armagh, who got the ball to the net to square the game up.
The game ended all square, yet despite having the lead late on, O’Connor felt the result was fair.
“We had started well but they took a hold of the game which we expected them to.
“We were five points down with 11 minutes to go, but were three points up in injury time. They put a speculative ball in to the box and got the goal.
“A draw was a fair result. It was an exciting finish.
“We went there expecting to get a win. We were happy to get a point out of it. They (Warwickshire) are competitive at this level.”
So what do Armagh have to do to get a win over Longford, and can they improve to challenge in this competition?
O’Connor believes that they can.
“We need to create more goal scoring opportunities. We need more goals.
“Against Monaghan we didn’t create enough scoring chances. It is something that we have to work on.
“I think that we can improve. There is still improvement in this team. We played well in the pre season and we have to try to get back to that form. They need to get that intensity back.”
In order to reinvigorate the team they have  been working on the training field, on ball work and tactics. O’Connor said that there has been a lot of competition for places. That is the result of some of the younger players improving. The likes of Eoin McGuinness, who grabbed a goal against Warwickshire, and corner backs Caolan Rice and Paddy Quinn have played very well.
“The younger players have responded well. They have a lot more experience now and that shows.  I am pleased with their progress and how they have stepped up. They are going to important players over the next few years,” O’Connor said.
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