GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Dream draw for Armagh could become nightmare for Tyrone

Kieran McGeeney and then Armagh boss Paul Grimley embrace after their 2014 win over Tyrone in Healy Park.
Pic Seamus Loughran

WHETHER it was sitting up late finishing off my report from the previous night's match, the utterly predictable nature of the Kerry-Galway quarter-final, or the punditry (kidding, guys…), I dozed off on a sofa as the draw for this weekend's All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals was being made.

When I woke to hear 'Tyrone v Armagh ' and to see those words on the screen, it still seemed like a dream come true.

Not for Monaghan, of course, whose hopes of reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals for the first time since 1988 rely on the long shot of beating back-to-back champions Dublin .

Armagh will obviously be delighted to avoid the Dubs, but Tyrone too are probably happier about taking on their old rivals than they would have been about facing Malachy O'Rourke's men.

Having beaten Monaghan at the same stage in both 2013 and 2015 there would have been wariness about taking them on again, especially as the Farneymen haven't clicked – yet – and this time Tyrone are the Ulster champions waiting to be shot at.

That's not to suggest Tyrone will be taking victory over Armagh for granted; they certainly won't.

For headline-writing purpose, it would be better if I could truthfully say 'There's something about Derry '. Unfortunately for the Oak Leafers, that particular rivalry of Tyrone's has completely lost its edge.

It's unlikely we'll be saying the same after Armagh face the Red Hands this Saturday afternoon though.

There is something about Armagh.

They love a derby. Despite Down and Tyrone winning more All-Irelands, Armagh still have the better head-to-head records against those counties in Championship combat.

Even when this particular match-up appeared to be heading in a one-way direction around the turn of the decade, with Tyrone recording their fourth consecutive Championship victory over the Orchardmen in 2012, there was still the sense that Armagh could emerge victorious.

The hosts made Tyrone work hard for their Ulster quarter-final win in 2012 at the Athletic Grounds, their 0-19 to 1-13 victory helped by the 56th minute dismissal of Kevin Dyas, with Armagh level as late as the 66th minute.

The same margin separated the sides at the same stage in Clones in 2009, when the Red Hands won by 2-10 to 1-10.

Only in the 2011 third round qualifier were Tyrone fairly comfortable in their 2-13 to 0-13 success in Omagh.

Otherwise, Armagh remained competitive with Tyrone.

It wasn't quite as tight as the fabled era of 2002-5, when an average of just one-and-a-half points separated the sides after six intense Championship clashes – including two draws and two wins each – over three seasons, which ended with one All-Ireland and two Ulsters for Armagh, two All-Irelands and one Ulster for Tyrone.

Yet Armagh still believed – and Tyrone still worried – that orange could prevail over the red-and-white.

So it proved in 2014, when the Orangemen marched into Healy Park and ended Tyrone's season as early as it has ever been over in the qualifier era.

The bonus was that Armagh's campaign subsequently lasted as long as it had done since 2005 – when it had been ended by you-know-who at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

Armagh had taken Tyrone's Ulster conquerors Monaghan – the reigning provincial champs – to a semi-final replay, but it was still something of a shock that the visitors won at Healy Park.

Obviously the dismissal of Mattie Donnelly before half-time was a significant factor, but Armagh earned their win.

2014 and now this year are the only times Armagh have reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals since they were last Ulster Champions in 2008, having reached at least the last eight in six of the first eight seasons that the format existed.

Armagh and Tyrone had won Ulster and the All-Ireland respectively in 2008, but their paths appeared to diverge after that.

While Armagh waned, Tyrone were still targeting 'Sam', reaching the All-Ireland semi-final stage in 2009, 2013, and 2015.

Armagh, though, could get no further than the last 12, apart from in 2014, which made that win in Tyrone's backyard all the sweeter.

It gave them the belief to go to Dr Hyde Park and overcome Roscommon by five points, beat Meath in Croke Park by the same margin, and then push eventual finalists Donegal all the way before losing by a point.

Kieran McGeeney's fingerprints appeared all over that 2014 team, which was tough, hard-working, and could play football.

Yet when he stepped up from assisting Paul Grimley to become manager, the results they wanted wouldn't come.

Indeed before this year his only Championship win in six outings came at home to Wicklow.

Last year Armagh even suffered the ignominy of becoming the first county to lose three senior championship matches in the same season, two of those against Laois after a re-fixture was ordered.

When Armagh lost to neighbours Down in Newry this June, many began to wonder how soon the Orchard County would be ending the reign of its All-Ireland winning captain.

Yet they have bounced back brilliantly, winning four consecutive Championship matches for the first time since 'Geezer' was the reigning All-Ireland winning captain.

It has been pointed out that the 2003 campaign, when Armagh actually won six matches in a row, ended with defeat by Tyrone.

That's still the likely outcome this Saturday – Mickey Harte's team cruised through Ulster, beating Derry, Donegal, and Armagh's conquerors Down by a cumulative 28 points.

But…

There's something about Armagh, especially when it comes to Tyrone. They performed better than expected in Croke Park in 2014, and did so again last Saturday night, playing brilliantly to beat a fancied Kildare side.

2014 was the only Tyrone-Armagh/ Armagh-Tyrone Championship match I have missed in my time with this paper, as I was on holiday marking my mother-in-law's Cough-tieth birthday.

Saturday's showdown has had me excited since I woke up from my Sunday afternoon power nap.

You could fill a book (and we may well fill a paper) with recollections of Armagh-Tyrone clashes: that late miss by Tyrone in 2002, Barry Duffy's goal in the replay, the intensity of the entire 2003 final, Armagh's comeback in the 2005 Ulster Final, the crazy red cards to Tyrone in the replay, and Peter's winning free in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final.

The recent games haven't been so memorable, but the 2014 result and Armagh's recent revival makes Saturday a very enticing prospect.

Armagh's dream could become Tyrone's nightmare.

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