Armagh defender Brendan Donaghy hoping to outdo neighbours Tyrone
CROKE Park may not quite be the 'home away from home' it used to be for Armagh, but it will certainly feel like that for Brendan Donaghy this Saturday.
The long-serving defender comes from a club, Clonmore, right on the county border with Tyrone, who will provide the opposition in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
Indeed Donaghy admits, with a laugh: "I hardly dare say it but my address would even be Tyrone I'm that close to the border."
The 31-year-old doesn't tend to get ruffled on the pitch or off, and makes an admirable attempt to downplay the hype ahead of Saturday's showdown, saying:
"We'll look at it as another game of football, we'll try not to get too wound up about the whole thing against our next door neighbours."
Keeping cool heads in an Armagh-Tyrone game isn't easy anywhere, but especially not in front of what is anticipated to be a full house in Croke Park, no doubt including many people Donaghy knows in both camps.
The atmosphere will be incredible, in what will be the counties' first encounter at headquarters since the three-game 'series' there in 2005, which included the Ulster Final and replay, and the All-Ireland semi-final.
Indeed, although Donaghy praised Armagh's consistently large travelling support, he acknowledged that there is a downside to the raucous backing they receive:
"Armagh has the best fans – well, we would say that anyway. They follow us everywhere, no matter if it's a Division Three game. Anywhere in the country, they're always there to have our back.
"It's always good to give them a bit of a return, especially coming down [to Croke Park] and giving, well, a sort of a performance. We're happy that they're happy, they're part of it too."
Asked if the roars from orange-clad hordes helped the team, he replied: "Sometimes you notice the difference, but a lot of the time you'd be focusing on the game, you don't really have that much time [to think about it].
"It's probably a wee bit off-putting when you're trying to shout at some of the lads on the field and you can't hear each other.
"But I'm delighted for the fans, they follow us up and down the country. As long as they're happy, we're happy."
While the supporters do their bit, Donaghy was delighted with the effort on the pitch too, as shown again in last Saturday evening's hard-fought round 4B victory over Leinster finalists Kildare.
Some of those who started the game between the supporters and the players on the Croke Park grass made a big difference, with subs Joe McElroy, Ciaron O'Hanlon, Ethan Rafferty, Oisin O'Neill, and Anto Duffy all coming on to good effect, as Donaghy noticed:
"Even the boys who came in off the line worked hard and that's what we've been focussed on doing; it was good to see them pushing on.
"We have that strength in depth that we haven't had the past few years. The boys who started on the field, everyone was emptying the tank, giving their all. Thankfully it's all working."
Donaghy laughed off the personal praise offered for the point he kicked late on, quipping: "Every so often you're due a fluke at some stage; luckily enough it went over. Other days it could have hit the post and went wide. A bit of luck does no harm."
Minutes later he was involved in another big moment, after Kildare sent their captain and midfielder Kevin Feely in to full-forward and launched a high ball towards him in the hope of grabbing an equalising goal.
Instead sweeper Donaghy had gone back into full-back and rose to take a superb clean catch above the Lilywhites skipper's head. Again, though, he was modest about his contribution, joking:
"Again, that's two flukes in one game! That's what you're to do, we'd see it as part of our job."
He was happier paying compliment to colleague Jamie Clarke, who was wonderful in the second half, repeatedly getting out in front of Kildare defenders, scoring three points from play and creating chances for colleagues.
"Jamie is pure class and everyone knows that about him. He has that 'Wow' factor, he can do those things.
"We see it in training all the time and it's good to see that he can do it out on big stage as well, playing with a bit of freedom. Thankfully he's in a good place."
Clarke wasn't the only Armagh player to receive criticism recently, not only after the Down defeat in Ulster but during the qualifiers, despite beating Fermanagh by nine points and winning away to both Westmeath and Tipperary.
There was plenty of praise, though, and rightly so, after their powerful performance in beating Kildare, although Donaghy tried to suggest they were somewhat fortunate to win against the Lilywhites:
"We've probably been making those steps up and obviously later on in the Championship is when you're playing some of the bigger teams.
"Kildare, massive credit to them, even when they were playing Dublin, put up a big fight, and put up a massive fight against us.
"Luckily it came out as our day – other days it would have gone their way. We're just lucky to be into the next round, we're happy with that."
That will be Armagh's public view, the Clonmore man commenting: "This is a bonus for us to be involved at this late stage of the Championship. I'd say Julie [Davis] and everybody else will have us in the right shape, in the right frame of mind, keep us doing the right things, so fingers crossed.
"Tyrone are a top class team, they're front-runners for the All-Ireland so all we can really do is show up and give it our best. Obviously that's what we'll try to do. Any game from here on is a bonus."
Be in no doubt, though, that Brendan Donaghy and Armagh will believe they can head home victorious, so there'll be some happy people at Tyrone addresses at least.