The dust has only settled after the Tyrone game and it’s time again to put our Ulster crown up for grabs once again.
Armagh have been waiting in the shadows ever since the draw was made. It’s been a while since Armagh were Kings of Ulster and their patience must be running out. Contrary to what many might believe Kieran McGeeney and the Armagh players will have been looking forward to this game. They came very close in last year’s quarter-final in Croke Park. Indeed it was only a last minute point from Paddy Mc Brearty that got us over the line.
They will have taken great heart from running us so close and they will have gained a lot of experience from the encounter. Most everyone will realise by now that this will not be one for the purists. There will be very little room for the gifted players to show off their wares. Llike the Tyrone game it will all be about what team take their chances and who can limit their mistakes.
Donegal have the experience and their players have been through this on many occasions in the last few years so you would figure there shouldn’t be much of a problem but that’s not the way sport works especially Gaelic football.
Kieran Mc Geeney waited a long time to get his hands on the Armagh job,.His reputation was damaged a bit when his time with Kildare was up. As a player and a captain he led from the front and didn’t accept second best as an option; expect his players to be on the same wavelength come Sunday afternoon.
Rory Gallagher and the Donegal players will realise that this is one of those games where they’re expected to win and if they’re to give the likes of Kerry and Dublin a run for their money this year they have to overcome this sort of challenge. We know where Donegal’s strengths are. We know how they will set up. We know they will not panic even when things might not be going as well as they might want and we know that when they get their chance there is no better team in Ulster to take advantage, but the big question is have Armagh figured out a way to stop them. Have they got what Tyrone didn’t have and have they the wherewithal to do it.
In last year’s quarter-final match referee Joe McQuillian came in for a lot of criticism from the Armagh supporters. To be fair to the Armagh players or management they didn’t go down that road but watching the game last week you could understand where that frustration came from.
David Coldrick will be under the same pressure next Sunday especially after the Derry-Down game where match referee Eddie Kinsella was criticised by BBC analysts Oisin McConville and Marty Clarke as being unable to keep up with the play and for his handling of the red card for Down’s wing half back Conall Mc Govern.
I have to say I enjoyed the comments of the two lads as they were extremely honest in their criticisms of every aspect of the game and just didn’t have a go at the players for a change. Indeed the comments on the fitness of the referee are not new. In the last ten years or so the fitness and conditioning of players has surpassed anything that has gone before. Indeed it is acknowledged that your intercounty hurler or football is now as fit as any professional team player.
Teams have fitness and conditioning coaches. Their fitness levels are checked on a weekly basis; their bloods and dehydration levels are checked constantly; they are at a completely different level yet we still expect one man to control the game.
I know the answer to the question I am about to pose but do you think the referees or match officials are given the same opportunities to enhance their physical fitness. Of course not; it would not be feasible but I would have to agree after watching the game last Sunday he struggled.
It’s easy for most to see there is a problem but we will get the same usual mantra from the referees’ board that every referee is assessed on their performance and their fitness levels but who does the assessing? What level of fitness do you need to keep up with the demands of the modern game and will they ever admit that there is a problem?
The other talking point from last Sunday was the sending off. It was clear from the television replay that it was never a red card. The umpire got it wrong and Down supporters, players and manager could suggest that his call cost them the game. They could be right but it will be put down to an error of judgement and Down will just have to get on with it.
What happens if that call was made in an All-Ireland final or semi-final? On how many occasions do they see the whole incident and not just the tail end? If umpires are told to report what goes on you would wonder what the hell the umpires were doing in Ballybofey for the Tyrone game.
I have no doubt that as the summer goes on more mistakes will happen; we will be told it’s just part and parcel of the game and those involved are doing their best, but very little will change.