The Football Championship 2022 has previously started in earnest in Ballybofey and Castlebar.
In the north, Donegal used their experience and airpower to dominate a disappointing Armagh in an anti-climax of a competition. Kieran McGeeney will look deflated on the morning after his seven-point loss.
Further south, Galway narrowly defeated Mayo in a highly entertaining match befitting Castlebar’s fantastic new playing surface. A jubilant Pádraic Joyce blew the final whistle like few others to mark a milestone victory in his three-year tenure as Galway manager after tumultuous beginnings.
Not for the first time in her history, Mayo will regret some lavish gunfights.
Much of the talk leading into tonight’s Ulster quarter-final between Donegal and Armagh centered on Donegal’s indifferent league form coupled with Armagh’s growing promise.
Many expected a fresh and hungry Rian O’Neill to eclipse an aging and now injury-prone Michael Murphy. Add in Armagh’s leadership victory in the GAA Disciplinary Courts and you would have expected a fierce challenge from Armagh. It turned out to be anything but.
Murphy “the Master” put O’Neill “the Apprentice” firmly in his place with a typically influential performance that earned five points. He was an imposing figure the whole time.
By comparison, O’Neill endured a humiliating afternoon, with both his and Armagh’s scattered performances light years away from their barnstorming league win over Dublin in January.
Admittedly, Ballybofey isn’t the easiest place to win, but if Armagh wants to be treated as a real contender in Ulster or anywhere else, then that standard of performance isn’t enough. Donegal, on the other hand, showed all of their experience and big-game know-how to control this game consistently.
In hindsight, we shouldn’t be surprised. Armagh has not played in a provincial final since 2008. In the same period, Donegal have contested nine finals and won five.
That lack of experience was all too evident when veterans Murphy, Ryan McHugh and Paddy McBrearty made big plays when it was needed to keep Armagh in check.
In truth, McGeeney’s enduring bond with Armagh offers them unwarranted parallels to his own capricious team of the early ’00s. He himself and his leadership team must be deeply disappointed as they try to dig through the embers of defeat. Especially the way they wiped out in the middle third of the field.
In recent years, Armagh players have proven willing and able to engage in ugly brawls and stubborn skirmishes. But when McGeeney needed leaders to stand up and challenge Donegal’s dominance of midfield, the men in orange showed little courage for the fight. Great men when it doesn’t count. By comparison, the big men of Donegal channeled their physicality the right way and marched into a semi-final against Cavan in two weeks time.
With an opportunity to bury some demons after their shock 2020 Ulster final defeat, Donegal will be eyeing a return to this year’s Ulster decider. Based on what we’ve seen, they’re very much in the silverware mix this year provided they can keep their big players fit and available, especially Murphy.
Where to now for Armagh?
They’re potentially better than they’ve shown, but potential is nothing unless you go out and deliver when it counts.
Free from the seemingly suffocating pressures of Ulster Championship football, don’t be surprised if they make a run through the qualifiers. You are young and fit enough to get back on your feet. So don’t be surprised if they reach the quarterfinals later in the summer.
On this trip they could potentially meet Mayo who left too late to find her scorer shoes in Castlebar. Criticizing Mayo too much, however, would do Galway a disservice that was fully worth the win after putting on one of his best championship performances under Joyce.
Organized in defense and efficient in attack, Galway looked like a team moving in the right direction.
Playing with an energy and directness that Joyce always employed, Galway was able to keep the scoreboard ticking throughout, and enough to resist the Mayo comeback when it came towards the end.
Paul Conroy continued his good league form with three points from midfield. In comparison, his opponent Aidan O’Shea made no contribution to the scoreboard, further scrutinizing his position as James Horan attempted to find a way through the back door to Croke Park.
As that journey begins he will be hoping that Paddy Durcan, sorely missed today, is fit again.
Cillian O’Connor will also improve with every minute of grass time he can get back on his feet.
It was undoubtedly Galway’s day in lush, sun-drenched MacHale Park. But don’t discount mayo just yet—you never can.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/armagh-are-big-men-when-it-doesnt-count-they-showed-no-stomach-for-the-fight-in-ballybofey-41583476.html Dick Clerkin: Armagh are great men when it doesn’t matter – they didn’t show courage for the fight at Ballybofey