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All-Ireland qualifiers: How the need for revenge can drive on Armagh against Donegal

All-Ireland SFC


Line of fire: Michael Murphy of Donegal remonstrates with Armagh’s Aidan Forker during the Ulster quarter-final clash between the sides. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Line of fire: Michael Murphy of Donegal remonstrates with Armagh’s Aidan Forker during the Ulster quarter-final clash between the sides. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Kieran McGeeney. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Kieran McGeeney. Credit: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo


Line of fire: Michael Murphy of Donegal remonstrates with Armagh’s Aidan Forker during the Ulster quarter-final clash between the sides. Credit: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

The new wave of coaches and managers are generally disinclined to see revenge as a major factor when teams face off, but those on the inside see it differently.

As Donegal face into an Armagh side high on the waves of euphoria that a win over Tyrone brought last Sunday in a packed Athletic Grounds, they become the latest team to have to take on a side they conquered in the provincial series.

Familiarity has bred contempt. Including this one, this will be the third time Armagh will have faced Donegal in their last four games.

This scenario was only made possible by the introduction of the qualifier series in 2001. Back then, Derry reached an Ulster semi-final by knocking out Antrim, before they fell to Tyrone.

They got back on the road with backdoor wins over Antrim, Laois and Cavan before they were pulled out of the hat for an All-Ireland quarter-final.

Tyrone. In Clones. For Derry wing-back Paul McFlynn, it couldn’t have been any more perfect. They won 1-9 to 0-7 and showed that they had learned all the lessons there was to learn. 

“No matter how much you try to get yourself ready and say, ‘It’s the same team’, the psychology surrounding it all is huge. We had that edge of revenge, and they don’t have it because they beat you the last time so however you try to dress it up, there is an element you cannot legislate for,” he explained.

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“I think it’s the same this weekend and to be honest, I can only see one winner in that. There have been examples where that hasn’t happened but Armagh will be very disappointed in their performance the last day. They expected to win it.

“And so they bounced back with a win and now Donegal are still suffering from the Ulster final defeat. Their psychology is totally different, and their mood.”

Derry were blessed with having Eamonn Coleman as manager. His trade was bricklaying, but any of his players feel he missed his true calling as a psychologist.

He and his trainer Martin McElkennon poured all of this into the players as they steeled themselves for Tyrone.

“I remember the team bus coming into Clones that day. They played a few video clips of the semi-final defeat to Tyrone. It was my first experience of that motivational side of things,” said McFlynn.

“Coleman would have thrown it up to us that Tyrone bullied us that first day. There was a tackle that Peter Canavan made on me that day that he was booked for.

“On the bus coming in, the last clip on the video was of that tackle. And then it was repeated, and repeated and so on. We watched it about 10 times on repeat and then wee Coleman got up and turned off the video and said to us, ‘See today boys, that wee baldy so and so — he used a few other words — if he does that today, I want someone to take his head clean off’.”

The level of aggression targeted at Canavan had his head astray. In 2016, he recounted that game himself, saying: “I soon realised that I had a bullseye on my back. Every Derry player wanted a piece of the action. No matter where I went, I had a Derry hand on me. I couldn’t move, and I retaliated at the end of the first half. I saw red, and we saw the end of our Championship. Derry won by five.”

Talk of revenge almost seems unsophisticated in this age of GPS trackers and key performance indicators, but McFlynn, a doctor who lectures in University of Ulster on PE, believes it to be a crucial ingredient in the mix.

“Yes, you have your tactics and you have your game play and all the rest of it, but that desire, hunger and attitude to put every ounce into it is what makes the tackles, makes the blocks,” he maintained.

“Those elements in the game that are interwoven with the tackles is what gets you over the line, and I think that desire and hunger and attitude to work hard, it is a big thing.

“Some people think that is all rubbish but when you have experience and you have been there and been on the receiving end of a bad defeat, it helps.”

It’s for that reason that he cannot see any other result this weekend than Armagh reversing the result of the Ulster quarter-final in Ballybofey.

“I can’t,” he said. “There’s no point sitting on the fence.

“Armagh are going into this game in a good frame of mind. They have had a lot of time to focus on the defeat and they have got their house in order.

“For them, there will be a little bit of relief that it was more like them on Sunday past, that the work they put in paid off against Tyrone.

“Donegal are coming in after the Derry defeat and so much being made of Derry. Nobody is talking about the psychology of Donegal, but I would say they were going into that final feeling they were going to win it.

“I just see Armagh coming with momentum. They will look at the video and see what Donegal did the last day and they will be so much better prepared.”

And they will be up to date with the emotional resonance of the task too.

Back on March 27, these two met in the final round of the league and Armagh felt they were pulled into a row at the final whistle that earned suspensions for Stefan Campbell, Aidan Nugent, Rian O’Neill and Connaire Mackin, of which all but the latter were cleared.

After Donegal won the Championship game, it was said that Armagh spent too much energy on the appeals process.

Armagh were lampooned as the team that have the dreadful Ulster Championship record, but in qualifiers they haven’t been too bad against fellow Ulster sides in recent years.

And beating the All-Ireland champions always makes people sit up and take notice. 

They head to Clones seeking to have the final word on that. It’s sitting up beautifully.

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