GAA Football

Leagues should be finished first when county game returns says Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes

The National Leagues should be finished first when county game returns, says Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes. Pic Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

ARMAGH goalkeeper Blaine Hughes says the National League should be finished when/if the GAA season resumes later this year.

Despite losing in Laois and drawing in Westmeath, the Orchard county looked the best team in Division Two and, after hammering Fermanagh at Brewster Park in the fifth round of games, were sitting on top of the table and looking primed for a return to top flight football.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic put the brakes on Armagh's charge with two games to go and the entire season – both county and club – may yet be cancelled.

“It's frustrating, especially where we were sitting in the League table, we were trying to push on and get promotion,” said Carrickcruppen clubman Hughes.

“It's just frustrating the way the League ended but I still think the games should be played. I know there'll be a backlog for the Championship then but the League should be finished. When it comes back I would go with the League and then straight into the Championship.”

Playing games behind closed doors – mass gatherings of over 5,000 people have been banned in the Republic until August/September - has been offered as a possible solution to the current impasse but even that would prove very difficult without a vaccine. Hughes hasn't given up hope however.

“It would be very frustrating for a team to get to Croke Park and have no atmosphere there,” said the Armagh goalkeeper.

“Fans play a massive part in it and if you don't have fans it would be nearly like a training session.

“Don't get me wrong, we'd still take it! I'd still love to get there but it would very tough for the fans. The only thing they could try would be that instead of having all the games starting at 2pm on a Sunday or whatever they would be spread out so you'd have a full day of football on TV, not just one game that was picked out.”

Most GAA supporters would take your arm off if they were offered that option. There are much bigger issues in the world today obviously, but the lack of live action is proving difficult for sports fans to get used to

“You are looking forward to Netflix now,” jokes Hughes.

In normal circumstances, the League would have been wrapped up by now and, with promotion under their belts, Armagh would certainly have been in the mix for a long-awaited Ulster Championship breakthrough.

“I definitely think we would be contenders,” said Hughes.

“The thing about the Championship is every team is coming out at 100 mile-an-hour, everyone is putting everything in but I think we would be contenders. We were going strong there before the League stopped, we were training well and putting in some good performances too.”

He had kept three clean sheets in five games this year and, of the four goals he did concede, three of them came in a topsy-turvy game in Mullingar when Armagh imploded after building up what looked like a match-winning lead against Westmeath.

“Westmeath got a purple patch for five or six minutes and they really caught us on the hop,” said Hughes.

“We need to keep that consistency throughout a game instead of playing in patches. You need to stay focussed for the full 70 minutes because we can play so well for 40 minutes and then go through a spell when your lead gets completely wiped out and then you have to go and build again.”

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