Armagh facing their biggest test to date

Sunday, Croke Park, 1.45pm

By Niall McCoy

IN the midst of a sea of orange, the Armagh footballers will this Sunday face the biggest test of their mettle in the Kieran McGeeney era.

It is the third All-Ireland quarter-final since his involvement began in 2014, when he was head coach, but they were massive underdogs against Donegal before gallantly pushing them to a point that year.

There was a bit of a buzz ahead of the 2017 quarter-final, but still an understanding that they’d need to do something special to defeat Tyrone. In the pouring rain, the Red Hands took them apart.

Now, at Croke Park, they come up against Pádraic Joyce’s Galway in what is the most clichéd of 50-50 games.

Over the last few weeks Armagh have produced patches of simply scintillating football, and if they can stretch out those periods then they will win this game.

There were warning signs in those two games though, and ones that must be heeded. Tyrone, with an All-Ireland hangover, were so far off the pace in the first round of the Qualifiers that it was concerning. Even with that, Armagh kept them in the game until the second half when they should have been half a dozen points up at the break.

Donegal looked like a team with too many miles on the clock at Clones last time out, but in the 23rd minute the Tir Chonaill men had a four-point lead and Armagh looked in trouble.

The solace, of course, is that games are judged over 70 minutes. Beating Tyrone and Donegal by a cumulative 16 points is not to be sniffed at.

Their reaction to Donegal’s good start in round two was probably the most pleasing aspect for McGeeney. In Ballybofey in the Ulster opener, Donegal got ahead and bar a five-minute push from the visitors at the start of the second half, never looked like being caught. Armagh’s decision making dropped, their intensity fell even further.

In the second meeting, they kept on chipping away when trailing and although people will point to Shaun Patton’s short kick-out malfunction, the game had noticeably turned in the minutes leading up to that Aidan Nugent penalty incident.

Nugent and his fellow joint-captain Rian O’Neill have been stars in Armagh’s run to the last eight. The Cullyhanna man scored the crucial goal against Tyrone, while his Crossmaglen neighbour was superb against Donegal. Some said he had finally arrived in the 2022 championship with that performance, but he was also first rate in the second half against Tyrone.

Stefan Campbell, Rory Grugan and Jason Duffy are in top form up front, Stephen Sheridan and Ben Crealey are starting to gel in midfield and the trio of Aidan Forker, Aaron McKay and Greg McCabe have been superb at the back – and their contribution underrated.

Armagh have a lot of players in good form, crucial for any extended run.

In Galway though, they are facing one of the best attacks in the country. Just ask Derry who shipped 4-11 to them in Owenbeg in the league.

Shane Walsh and Damien Comer have been producing brilliance from 2013 and 2014 respectively for the Tribesmen. The match-ups look pretty cut and dry.

Walsh will surely be tracked by Forker, McKay will have the task of trying to blot out the bull Comer.

They’re by no means a two-man attacking team though. In the Connacht semi-final against Leitrim, Walsh and Comer managed only a point from play between them (Walsh also landed five frees). That was from a 4-20 tally.

In Paul Conroy they are also facing maybe the best midfielder in the country right now and one who dominated the skies in their last championship meeting, a Galway win at the Athletic Grounds in 2015.

And Galway have one more serious weapon to call on.

They may be provincial champions, but most of the talk heading into this game has been about Armagh and their potential. Podcasts, newspaper inches and radio shows have had guests lining up to praise the Orchard County. Joyce would have smiled at every soundbite.

For you see there really is nothing between these sides. In a sea of orange, maroon may just be the colour of the day.


Coldrick was the man in the middle for Armagh’s Qualifier win over Tyrone and he kept good control on a game that never really looked like boiling over. He did hit Tyrone’s Richie Donnelly with a soft black card but overall he did a good job. The GAA will be confident he can do likewise on Sunday. There is a lot of physically on both sides here and there will be some early markers laid down. Get through those first 15 minutes without having to brandish too many cards and we should be in for a good game.



This match was memorable for a bit of controversy that would ultimately go on to seal Armagh’s relegation to Division Three. Amazingly four teams would finish on six points, Armagh going down on points difference, but they felt they should never have been in that position. Armagh finished with 13 men but they led by eight points after 57 minutes and looked like they were easing home. Galway fought back, but were still a goal ahead when the four minutes of indicated additional time were played out. Sean Hurson played on for another three minutes and Danny Cummins, as he had done in their championship clash in 2013, fisted home a goal.



Armagh: E Rafferty; J Morgan, A Forker, C O’Neill; A McKay, G McCabe, J Og Burns (0-03); S Sheridan (1-00), B Crealey; R Grugan (1-03 (0-1f), S Campbell (0-01), R O’Neill (1-07, 1-0 pen, 0-2f, 0-1 ’45); A Nugent, A Murnin, J Duffy (0-01).
Subs: C Turbitt (0-02) for Murnin (56), J Hall for Sheridan (63), M Shields for Nugent (65), C Higgins for Duffy (69), J Kieran for C O’Neill (73)

Donegal: S Patton; C Ward, B McCole, A Doherty (0-01); R McHugh (0-01), E Ban Gallagher, O McFadden Ferry; C McGonagle, J McGee (0-01); C Thompson (0-01), M Langan, P Mogan; P McBrearty (0-01), M Murphy (0-06, 5f), S O’Donnell (0-04).
Subs: M Lynch for McBrearty (31), McBrearty for Lynch (37), J Brennan for Thompson (45), C O’Donnell for Ward (58), N O’Donnell (0-01) for Langan (63), J McKelvey for McHugh (63).


Galway: Connor Gleeson; Liam Silke, Seán Kelly, Jack Glynn; Dylan McHugh, John Daly, Cillian McDaid (0-01); Paul Conroy (0-01), Matthew Tierney; Kieran Molloy (0-01), Damien Comer (0-03), Johnny Heaney (0-02); Rob Finnerty (0-05), Patrick Kelly (1-00), Shane Walsh (1-06, 0-02 ’45, 0-01f)
Subs: Niall Daly for Tierney (59), Finnian Ó Laoí for Comer (65), Owen Gallagher for Finnerty (70), Paul Kelly for Patrick Kelly (70), Cathal Sweeney for Molloy (74).

Roscommon: Colm Lavin; Brian Stack, Conor Daly (1-01), David Murray; Conor Hussey, Niall Daly, Ronan Daly; Ultan Harney (0-03), Eddie Nolan; Cathal Heneghan (0-01), Enda Smith (0-01), Ciaráin Murtagh (0-01); Cian McKeon (0-01), Donie Smith (0-02, 0-01f), Conor Cox (0-05, 0-03f).
Subs: Niall Kilroy for Heneghan (half-time), Richard Hughes for Murray (47), Diarmuid Murtagh (1-01, 0-01f) for Donie Smith (48), Andrew Glennon for McKeon (58), Keith Doyle for Nolan (58).


Armagh: Rian O’Neill 2-35

Galway: Shane Walsh 3-38

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