Armagh full of hope ahead of Ballybofey battle

Ulster Senior Championship quarter-final
Donegal v Armagh
Sunday, Ballybofey, 2pm

By Shaun Casey

CAST your mind back to 1999. An Armagh team on the rise made the long journey towards Ballybofey and kick-started a summer to remember.

By the end of the campaign, the Orchard had halted a 17-year hiatus to finally get their hands back on the Anglo Celt cup. It took a replay to see off Donegal, but that win was the catalyst for a decade of provincial dominance.

History has a way of repeating itself and once again the Armagh faithful head to the Northwest with hopes and dreams of special days on the horizon.

The wait hasn’t been quite as long this time around, but it’s now 12 years since the orange and white flags flew around Clones on Ulster final day and it’s Donegal who have been the kingpins in the intervening years.

The Tir Chonaill men have featured in two All-Ireland finals, winning one, toppled Ulster five times and have consistently been one of the top sides in the country.

Armagh on the other hand have made big strides in the league, solidifying their spot in the top tier for a third successive year, but now it’s all about championship.

On each occasion that Armagh looked to have been back in the big time, they’ve faltered with a flat performance and crashed back into the wilderness.

You only have to go back to the previous two Ulster championship campaigns. Donegal humiliated Kieran McGeeney’s side in 2020 while four first-half goals paved the way for Monaghan in last year’s semi-final.

But 2022 has had a different feel to it, right throughout the league. The defence is no longer easily penetrated and not only did Armagh compete with the best, but they beat them. Toppling Dublin and Tyrone in the early rounds of the league sparked hopes of a revival.

Donegal had an inconsistent campaign but earned eye-catching wins over Ulster rivals Tyrone and Armagh to remain in the topflight. Their loss to Monaghan was damaging, however.

Not in terms of the result, but the fact that Seamus McEnaney’s men proved Donegal are beatable in Ballybofey. It’s perhaps no longer the daunting fortress that it once was, and Monaghan’s victory offers another glimmer of hope for Orchard fans.

The league finished with a flurry and the shemozzle in Letterkenny has really whet the appetite for this weekend. From a supporters point of view, it makes Sunday’s clash all the more appealing and the bitterness between the two teams will likely draw a bumper crowd.

Aidan Nugent and Stefan Campbell are now available, having won their appeals, while Ciaran Mackin will miss out through injury. Donegal defenders Neil McGee and Odhran McFadden-Farry remain suspended for their part in the melee.

The inclusion of Nugent and Campbell will add an extra layer of confidence to the Orchard squad and some firepower that will concern their hosts.

Is this Armagh’s time, or can Donegal produce their best when it’s required?

It finished a draw all those years ago in 1999 and it’s impossible to rule out another one this weekend.


Maurice Deegan (Laois): Maurice Deegan admittedly isn’t a fan favourite in the Orchard County, but Sunday will be his first Armagh game of 2022. He refereed Donegal’s defeat to Kerry in round three and was also the man in the middle when the Tir Chonaill side captured the Sam Maguire ten years ago.


National League Round 7 – Donegal 1-14 Armagh 1-13
Sunday, March 27, 2022
This was the curtain raiser for the main event, and it’s helped build up all the anticipation for a good old-fashioned battle in Ballybofey this weekend. Donegal edged a close encounter, as Armagh decided to rest Rian O’Neill and Rory Grugan, both only coming on at half time, but it was the post-match scenes that raised the most talking points. Five players will miss out on Sunday’s opener due to their involvement in the melee, and while it was unsavoury, it helped whet the appetite for what is sure to be a humdinger of a contest.

Donegal: S Patton, C Ward (0-1), B McCole, O McFadden-Ferry, R McHugh, E Ban Gallagher, S McMenamin, J McGee (1-0), H McFadden, S O’Donnell, Peadar Mogan, J Brennan (0-2, 1m), P McBrearty (0-7, 5f), M Murphy (0-4, 2f), C O’Donnell
Subs: M Langan for Brennan, N O’Donnell for R McHugh, E O’Donnell for S O’Donnell, N McGee for B McCole (blood sub)

Armagh: E Rafferty, J Morgan, A Forker, A McKay, J Hall, G McCabe, J Og Burns, Ciaran Mackin, B Crealey, C O’Neill, S Campbell, T Kelly (0-1), A Nugent (1-6, 3f), A Murnin (0-2 1m), Jason Duffy (0-1 1m)
Subs: Connaire Mackin for J Morgan, R O’Neill (0-3, 1f) for J Hall, R Grugan for C O’Neill, C McConville for S Campbell, N Grimley for T Kelly, J Kieran for J Duffy


Armagh: Rian O’Neill 1-24
Donegal: Patrick McBrearty 2-24

READ MORE – McVeety returns to Ireland. Click here…

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