GAA Football

Armagh are only out for good performance against Down, says captain Rory Grugan

Armagh's Rory Grugan putting pressure on Down's Darragh O'Hanlon during their 2017 Ulster SFC meeting in Newry.
Pic Seamus Loughran

THE Ulster SFC may be the ultimate results-based environment but Armagh captain Rory Grugan insists they are focussed solely on getting a good performance against Down this Sunday.

The Orchardmen have infamously lost their last four provincial games, all under the management of Kieran McGeeney, and the skipper admits he and his colleagues want to put an end to that:

“We’re all sick of hearing about this record. It’s about time that we played our football, put in a performance on the day, and hopefully that’s enough for us.”

Those defeats have come against Donegal, Cavan, Down two years ago, and Fermanagh last season. The loss to the Mournemen was Armagh’s first in senior championship against those old rivals for a quarter of a century, but Grugan insists the ‘R’ word is not on their lips:

“It’s more on a personal level, as a team ourselves, rather than any revenge over Down as such. If you look at the last three years, Cavan, Down, and Fermanagh, it’s that failure to perform which is the annoying thing for us as a group of players.

“As much as we definitely left it behind us that day [against Down] in terms of performance, you could say the same about those other two years as well. For us, genuinely, it is just about trying to play to our potential on the day – and hoping that that’s good enough to get us over the line.”

Armagh came close to reaching the inaugural ‘Super Eights’ last year, and did reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2017 (and in 2014, when McGeeney was assistant manager), so that gives Grugan hope and belief that they are actually a good team:

“It’s frustrating, because we feel as a group of players that we’re better than that [Ulster] record suggests. When you look at the qualifier runs we’ve gone on after those games you do say to yourself ‘We’re better than that record’. It’s just a case of putting it to bed and moving on.

“The big thing we’re looking for is a performance. We believe if we get that then that should be good enough for us.”

That fact that Down are their opponents cannot be ignored, though, the Ballymacnab man accepts:

“We have a lot of neighbouring counties, but one of the biggest rivalries is definitely Down. I suppose it also depends what part of the county you live in as well, if you’re close to that Newry border…

“It’s always a special day playing in the Ulster Championship and it means a bit more when you’re playing against your near neighbours. I’m sure it’ll be a brilliant atmosphere in Pairc Esler.”

Armagh have already played at the Newry venue this year, punished for having a training camp during April last year by being made to give up home advantage for their Division Two game against Clare.

Although that ended in a 1-13 to 2-10 draw, Grugan believes that match may benefit them this Sunday:

“It was funny the way that one worked out, actually. It was clearly disappointing to lose the home venue for the Clare game – but in a way it worked out for us just to get our eye in again at Pairc Esler. It was good preparation for this game.”

Grugan throws in a mischievous piece of trivia: “I’ve been reliably informed that a good part of Pairc Esler, maybe three-quarters of it, is actually in Armagh.”

Home or away, as long as the Orchardmen beat their neighbours they’ll be happy.

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