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Having secured Division One status for another season, expectations and hopes are growing in Armagh.

Their track record in the Ulster Championship has been poor over the past decade, which followed a decade of dominating Ulster, and the target of an Ulster final is a realistic ambition.

First up for Armagh is Antrim in the Ulster quarter-finals on Sunday, at 3pm in the Athletic Grounds.

Antrim will be underdogs but after securing promotion out of Division Four they will be confident of claiming a scalp especially with Tyrone native Enda McGinley at the helm.

Armagh are without long-term injured Aidan Nugent, Mark Shields and Ethan Rafferty, while Paddy Burns is also unlikely to be fit, but Aidan Forker, James Morgan and Ryan Kennedy should play some part.

Armagh Captain Stefan Campbell. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Armagh Captain Stefan Campbell isn't taking anything for granted in Sunday's clash with Antrim. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Armagh captain Stefan Campbell impressed in his last outing against Roscommon, and he feels that his team is in a good place at the minute, but he isn’t taking anything for granted.

“We are moving well and kept our status in the top tier and obviously mixed emotions because we were a bit disappointed not to make the semis, but I suppose we just turn out focus to Antrim,” Campbell said.

“We want to get any injuries concerns cleared up and just give us the best chance to go in with the best players at our disposal as possible. We are not underestimating the challenge Antrim pose.”

Armagh’s League campaign was already a mini-Ulster competition with mostly positive performances and results and the Orchard captain feels it should be good preparation for Sunday, but he expects all the teams to change tactics for the championship.

“I suppose it could have benefited us in a way, Ulster games are tight and hopefully we showed we deserve to stay in Division one and that helps us going into the championship,” said Campbell.

“We had our sights set higher, we wanted that semi-final slot and we were bitterly disappointed to miss out especially having matched Tyrone on league points. We just slipped below that, but we can take confidence that Donegal and Tyrone are being talked in the same breath as Kerry and we were able to compete. And that is all we showed, we showed we can compete by staying up and now it is onto the next task, which is Ulster.

“I think teams were coming out to play a little bit more expansive than they usually would [in the national league]. I think due to the heavy scores some teams conceded might force them to change their hands slightly. They might tighten their shores up and limit the goal chances. Hopefully not for the purists.”

Following the departure of Jim McCorry, manager Kieran McGeeney brought in Ciaran McKeever and Kieran Donaghy and the Armagh captain feels that the Kerry All-Ireland winner has made a huge contribution.

Armagh play Antrim back in 2011. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
The last time Armagh lost to Antrim was this game back in 2011 when they were beaten by a goal. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

“A young coach and new to the game but because he has been that player, he has been the star of the show and an important player and also that impact sub, I think his biggest impact to the forward line is that he can relate to everybody,” Soupy said.

“He can relate to Rian O’Neill, Oisin [O’Neill]or Conor Turbitt who is coming off the line every game. “He is going into his recent history and examples from his career, and he is being genuine. Every player in the forward line can use his experience and can pick his brain.

“I think it is benefiting us as a team to make us play for one and other. There is a lot to be said for doing your own thing in the field, everybody wants a chunk of the limelight, and it is just a matter of burying that ego or whatever it is and trusting the man beside you that he can do everything that you can do. I think we have seen bits of that coming to fruition in the League and hopefully that will go up another level in the Championship.”

He has only had the best part of six to eight weeks with us, let’s hope with another few weeks under his belt we can go another level.

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