Heroes of 2002 can be spur for Armagh, insists Grugan
Armagh captain Rory Grugan is convinced that the team which won the county's only All-Ireland title to date in 2002 raised the bar to such an extent that replicating the feat will be extremely difficult.
Ahead of his team's Ulster Championship quarter-final showdown with Down on Sunday, Grugan is keen to put into perspective just where his side is at right now and in the process banish a few myths.
"It was undoubtedly one of the great days when Armagh won Sam in 2002 and I suppose people like me grew up being spoiled by the success that the team achieved," reflected schoolteacher Grugan.
"Let's remember that the Armagh team of that period were winning Ulster titles as if they were going out of fashion. It was just an unbelievable spell for football in the county."
If Armagh and Tyrone tended to dominate the provincial stage in the Noughties, then Monaghan and Donegal have muscled their way to the fore more recently with the result that the Ulster Championship has further embellished its reputation as the most competitive of all the provincial competitions.
But even though Armagh are still awaiting their first victory in the provincial series during Kieran McGeeney's watch as manager, skipper Grugan still believes that the influence wielded by some of the heroes of 2002 can help to galvanise the side this summer.
"When you look at it, Kieran McGeeney is still an iconic figure in Armagh to whom we as players all look up to, while Paddy McKeever and John Toal, who were in the 2002 squad, are part of the current management team which is great," pointed out Grugan.
While Grugan retains vivid memories of the 2002 triumph, right now he is totally focused on playing his part in trying to script a new chapter of success for Armagh at Ulster level at least.
"I remember in 2002 I was only a young fellow. I was nearly in tears because I could not get down to join the players out on the pitch. In those days people were able to spill out onto Croke Park after big games and it was great," said Grugan.
"The whole pitch was a sea of orange that day - it was an unforgettable sight. Having experienced that once, you naturally would love to relive it as a player but we have to keep our feet on the ground."
Yet Grugan still clings to the hope that Armagh can force their way into the limelight again.
"I think you always have to have hope. We are not yet at the level at which we would want to be and the league is always a good indicator of that," stressed Grugan.
With players such as Patrick Burns, Rian O'Neill, Ryan Kennedy, Jarlath Og Burns, Jemar Hall and Pearse Casey beginning to make a big impact, Grugan believes the team is even better equipped to mount a sustainable drive for honours.
"As well as these new guys, we have other players like Ben Crealey and Ethan Rafferty back from injury and this is very encouraging," added Grugan.