Seven Ulster titles in ten years speaks volumes for Armagh’s longevity at the top of the provincial tree.
But now that they have exited this year’s series and face the still largely unfamiliar route that is the All Ireland Qualifiers, skipper Steven McDonnell is urging a prompt restoration of pride and credibility in the wake of Sunday’s 12-point demolition at the hands of Monaghan.
An early scoring blitz by the Orchard County leader had suggested that his team might go on and book their place in the semi-final but instead the Farney county made the necessary switches and summoned the right level of resolve that was to take them to a famous victory.
But while depression has enveloped Armagh, a county accustomed to success in provincial terms, if still rationed to just one All Ireland title, McDonnell retains a belief in his squad to prove themselves and he will be a more than interested observer when the first round draw is made on Sunday, live on television.
“We will now look to build up a bit of momentum again in the Qualifiers if we can,” asserts McDonnell.
“We had taken some knocks this year up until last Sunday and had shown ourselves capable of bouncing back. We find ourselves in a place where we really don’t want to be but we have to show our worth. It won’t be easy given the quality of sides that will be in the qualifying line-up but we will be giving it our best shot.”
His own scoring exploits underpinned Armagh’s gallop into Division One of the National League and when he whipped over three points from play in the first ten minutes of the game against Monaghan on Sunday it seemed as if he was about to considerably enhance his already high scoring ration.
But when Monaghan closed ranks at the back and generated consistent possession in midfield Armagh were forced onto the retreat meaning that McDonnell found himself an isolated figure up front. The Armagh captain, skipper, though, remains in no doubt as to the event that was to frame the course of the game.
“I would have to say that the sending off of Brian Mallon was rather harsh,” reveals McDonnell.
“I was quite near the incident when he shoulder-charged Rory Woods and I’m sure that Rory himself might say it was a fair charge.
“Brian is far from a malicious player and after he went off Monaghan were able to make the most use of their extra man.
“That’s the way decisions can go in a championship match, sometimes they are in your favour but on this occasion it was just not to be for us.”
It was from the end of the third quarter until the end of the game that Monaghan really turned the screw, piloting over scores almost at will as Armagh struggled to contain them.
“When Monaghan’s midfield players and half-backs were coming forward all the time to help their attack and take scores that showed the pressure we were under. We were unable to do a lot about it,” says McDonnell.
“We had travelled to Casement Park feeling within our own minds that we were capable of winning the game but it did not turn out that way.”