Armagh are not at same level as Donegal - Smyth

Armagh are not at same level as Donegal - Smyth
It was the year of really disastrous mullets, clumping platform shoes and shirts that were heinous crimes against fashion.

It was the year of really disastrous mullets, clumping platform shoes and shirts that were heinous crimes against fashion.

But a young 25 year-old man from Lurgan, with a bit of a mullet, did not really mind, as he captained Armagh to an All-Ireland final appearance against the mighty Dubs.

It was 1977 and Elvis had just died, and every team photograph looked like a “pic from Long Kesh” as Jimmy Smyth and the Orchard Boys were given a sore lesson in the sad school of experience from the Kevin Heffernan coached Dubs.

The elegant Smyth was pure pedigree and he won nine Armagh county titles with the legendary Clann na Gael of Lurgan from 1968 to 1982.

They also took three Ulster club titles beating the equally legendary St Joseph’s from Ballyshannon/Bundoran in a final in Irvinestown in 1973.

The affable Jimmy recalls that both dressing-rooms had corrugated iron roofs.

“All of a sudden one of our lads started to sing a song, I can’t remember what it was, but within seconds the whole place was rocking.

“I remember Pauric McShea remarking about it afterwards and the St Joseph’s boys must have thought we were stone mad.

“But I suppose it was a bit of positive psychology.”

Things were not as rosy on the -inter county front however.

Armagh were unable to field against Leitrim in 1973 and the county team was often referred to as a “circus”.

But all that changed when a visionary county chairman called Tommy Lynch brought in the charismatic “Jim McGuinness type” Peter Makem to bring some positive thinking along with Father Sean Hegarty and Gerry O’Neill.

“It was so bad at one point the Armagh team went to a venue and were looking for some of the supporters to come in from the terrace and tog out.

“On one occasion things were so desperate that some of the players took the glasses off a spectator to get him to play in goals.

“In the end he was not needed but that gives you and indication of the way things were,” said the affable Jimmy.

But a bonding session of squad and their wives and girlfriends that was paid for by chairman Lynch and Makem in 1974 kick-started the Orchard revival.

Makem made Jimmy captain and the team had a morale- boosting win over Donegal in 1975.

“We turned the Athletic Grounds into a bit of a fortress and did not lose a home match.

“But we ran up against a very good Derry team in 1975 and again in 1976.

“In 1977 we were well motivated and beat Cavan, Monaghan and Derry in the Ulster final.

“And we beat Roscommon in the All-Ireland semi-final after a replay”.

But the team had some strange preparation on the night before the final.

“You could not make it up.

“We were guests on Liam O’Murchu’s Trom Agus Eadtrom and when the camera panned to me I was nearly asleep,”. said Jimmy.

His memories of the final are “not good”.

“We were very naïve but the men from that team were all leaders and boys like Joe Kernan, Jim McCorry, Brian Canavan and Brian McAlinden all went on to manage Armagh.

“That was their greatest ever achievement as they did more than any other group to put Armagh on the GAA map.

But one of Jimmy’s more pleasant memories of matches against Donegal was a last gasp sideline kick from Mickey McDonald(Rory McIlroy’s uncle) which went over the bar to put Tir Conaill out of the Ulster championship in 1982.

Smyth was a mentor on that occasion.

But when asked to compare that team with Kernan’s all conquering side from 1999 to 2010.

“That was a completely different era.

“It wasn’t that we did not train hard but Joe and the boys took it to a completely different level.

“Nothing was left to chance and it was a big change from the wheaten bread in Trodden’s Hotel in Armagh for us to the specialised diets for Joe’s boys.

“They won seven Ulster titles and were very unlucky in the Qualifiers.

“The back door system has not been good to Armagh and that is totally apart from our disastrous loss to Fermanagh in 2004 after we played superbly against Donegal in the Ulster final.

“Three of the teams that beat us in the back door, Meath, Kerry and Tyrone all went on to win All-Irelands.

“So by the law of averages Armagh should have taken three All-Ireland titles,” he said.

Jimmy reckons the current Armagh side have put pride back in the county but he does not believe that Armagh are at the same level yet as Donegal.

“I know that Armagh beat this very same team very easily in Crossmaglen four years ago and that could be a motivating factor for them.

“But if that match was a Rubicon for Donegal I think that Saturday’s match might just be a bridge too far for Armagh.

“We are not quite at their level just yet.

“We have got some good victories over Tyrone which was a huge psychological boost, Roscommon and Meath.

“I got soaked at the Meath match but I was very impressed as Jamie Clarke did not play all that well and Ciaran McKeever was injured”.

He admits that Armagh’s current lockjaw with the media is “not the Armagh way” but has a background of a number of factors.

“It was not just the flags issue with Cavan.

“Peter McDonnell went to the launch of Ulster championships.

“There were quite a number of reporters there but nobody talked to him” Jimmy claimed.

He added that Armagh had sent out an email about a press night which there may have been come confusion.

Jimmy said that comments about the flags issued from President Liam O’Neill and Director General Padraig Duffy before the CCC verdict did not go down well in Armagh.

And I suppose the flags issue was the tipping point.

“I suppose Armagh are using this as motivation but as I say it is not satisfactory and is not the Armagh way.

And it certainly is not the Jimmy Smyth way, a man who has gone from those far off mullets, when he was young and invincible, to a media icon of Armagh.