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Armagh are aiming to bridge a 13-year gap since their last Ulster final appearance when they take on Monaghan on Saturday.

Armagh Manager, Kieran McGeeney. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Armagh Manager, Kieran McGeeney. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Newry’s Pairc Esler will host the Ulster semi-final with a 4pm throw-in, although crowd numbers will be lower than the demand of tickets due to the latest Covid restrictions.

It is sure to be full-blooded contest between the two neighbouring sides and if the opening game of the National League is anything to go by, there shouldn’t be too much between the sides at the final whistle.

Armagh beat Monaghan 1-12 to 1-16 in May, but the Farney side weren’t at full strength and Orchard boss Kieran McGeeney won’t be reading too much into that result ahead of Saturday’s big game.

“The championship is a different type of player, there is no doubt about it,” McGeeney said. “If you lose by a couple of a points and you look back and think that ‘we could have scored that,’ then you are raising your game.

“If you win by a couple of points then you might say ‘we were lucky there’.

“So, it is how you approach the game that particular day, there is definitely lot you can do before the game that can make you lose it, but the only thing you can do to win it is what you do between when it starts and finishes. 

“I would say it would have no relevance but if anything, it might give them a s slight edge because they might feel that they missed a few shots in the last couple of minutes when we were under pressure, ‘so we can take these fellas.’ It depends.

“An Ulster semi-final between next door neighbours it is like picking balls out of a hat and you just hope that the balls up pick out are the right ones and ready for the battle.

“I think that is what is keeping provincial football together as a province because you just don't know what you are going to get.”

Monaghan took care of Fermanagh with little fuss in the Ulster quarter-final, although the injury to talisman Conor McManus has put his participation on Saturday in doubt.

Armagh Rory Grugan. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Armagh Rory Grugan. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Players such as Drew Wylie and Jack McCarron will take some watching and McManus is likely to play some part too, so McGeeney and his management team will have their homework done.

Aidan Forker’s return is a huge boost, he missed Armagh’s 13-point win over Antrim and Ryan Kennedy should be in contention for a starting place, having missed much of the season through injury. Of course, the two O’Neill brothers Oisin and Rian are key to Armagh’s recent progression, and they need to be on fire against Monaghan. Jemar Hall, Greg McCabe, Connaire Mackin, Jarly Og Burns and substitute Conor Turbitt have all impressed this year too, while Rory Grugan is still putting in top notch performances, but he insists that what Armagh produced against Antrim won’t be good enough on Saturday.

“We are going to have to improve a lot for Monaghan, we watched the game and since the day we played them [in the National League opening weekend] they have been in brilliant form,” Grugan said.

“And it was a real tight game against Galway, and they came out the right side of it and they had a good win [against Fermanagh] so that is going to be a step up again. Monaghan have been at the top table longer than us over the last eight or ten years, so we are going to need a massive improvement for that.”

It is sure to be an exciting contest, while the other semi-final between Donegal and Tyrone shouldn’t be too shabby either.

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