Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Murtagh up for challenge facing Armagh

Donal Murtagh is living proof that nothing succeeds like success.

In his four years as manager of Crossmaglen Rangers, he led the famous old south Armagh club to one All Ireland as well as three Armagh and three Ulster titles.

Now the softly spoken Murtagh is revelling in his role as assistant to Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke.

“I was actually thrilled to be asked to become involved with Armagh, but I’ve never backed away from a challenge,” said Murtagh.

“In many respects the Crossmaglen job was similar in that nobody wanted it as they all felt it was a poisoned chalice.

“But I knew there was talent in the county, players who could come in and do a job.”

Murtagh (pictured), a quiet but astute football man through and through was mindful that the Orchard County had captured an Ulster minor title in 2005 and an All Ireland in the same grade only last year.

For good measure the 2004 All Ireland Under -21 title had also come to the Orchard county.

Even when Armagh were hammered by Down in the league in Newry two months ago, Murtagh’s faith in the side remained intact.

Some disgruntled fans felt another false dawn had come and gone in spectacular fashion.

But Murtagh, a greenkeeper by day, was never one for making rash judgements.

Long before Crossmaglen Rangers hit the big time Murtagh as a player had experienced the highs and lows of the sport.

In some respects it was an apprenticeship that would serve him well in the months and years ahead.

“Some critics made the mistake of reading far too much into our league defeat in Newry,” he said.

“I knew in my heart that we were a far better side, but that night we simply didn’t perform after getting off to a terrible start.

“It effectively meant that from the first minute it was an uphill battle.

“Then just as we were making our way back into the match we had Finian Moriarty dismissed for a second yellow card.

“But when it was all over I warned our players against reading too much into the result.”

Victory over Down in the Division Two League Final totally vindicated his judgement.

He was thrilled to bits with that performance especially the fact that three players pressed into action late in the game made massive contributions.

“Malachy Mackin was unfortunate not to start that day against Down in the final,” he said.

“He hasn’t put a foot wrong all year, but we wanted to look at a various options throughout the league.

“Malachy, Joe Feeney, Charlie Vernon and Gareth Swift all got a run out at various stages in the half-forward line.

“Jamie Clarke’s coming on against Down was something of a shot in the dark.

“Not too many expected to see him, but he showed he’s a quality player and there’s more where he came from.”

Wisely Murtagh is looking no further than Sunday and the championship clash in Celtic Park against old adversaries Derry.

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