Armagh success built on solid foundations: “Everybody is just working their ass off,” says goalkeeper Blaine Hughes

Armagh look forward to Roscommon quarter-final after 11 clean sheets from 13 games this season

Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes clears his lines during Sunday's Division Two final at Croke Park. Picture Mark Marlow
Armagh goalkeeper Blaine Hughes clears his lines during the Division Two final at Croke Park. Picture Mark Marlow

ARMAGH drew their last game, but after they’d come back from five points adrift to level it at the death in Sligo it felt to the players like they’d beaten Galway.

Stefan Campbell got the late equaliser but the foundations were laid by another very solid defensive performance from the Orchardmen who’ve only conceded four goals (two against Cork in a dead rubber in the League and two against Down in the Ulster semi-final) in 13 games so far.

That’s 11 clean sheets for Blaine Hughes and his defence and that’s a formidable record to bring into Saturday’s quarter-final against Roscommon at Croke Park. Hughes, who might not have got a game this season if Ethan Rafferty hadn’t been injured, laughs off the suggestion that he should open a dry cleaners because he knows how quickly a goalie can go from hero to zero…

Galway were cruising in Sligo when his opposite number Conor Gleeson played a kickout straight to Conor Turbitt. In a flash, Tiernan Kelly had the ball in the net.

“These things happen,” said Carrickcruppen clubman Hughes.

“Conor will bounce back, it happens to us all.

Tiernan Kelly celebrates after scoring Armagh's second half goal against Galway. Picture: Sportsfile
Tiernan Kelly celebrates after scoring Armagh's second half goal against Galway. Picture: Sportsfile (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE)

“We have a good record of keeping the goals out this year but it’s all to do with the boys in front of me, we’re all in it together and everybody is just working their ass off basically and you get the good of it when we’re not conceding many goals.”

Armagh aren’t conceding many and Roscommon haven’t been scoring many goals this season. There were five in seven games in the League which ended with relegation back to Division Two (Armagh will take their place in the top flight next year).

In the Championship, Davy Burke’s men lost to Mayo in the Connacht semi-final and were well beaten in their Group Two opener against Dublin. However, they pushed Mayo hard in round two and then hit 3-20, their best return of the season, to pip Cavan to a third-place finish.

Last weekend, the Rossies produced the surprise of the preliminary quarter-final round when they travelled to Omagh and ended Tyrone’s nondescript season with a 0-14 to 0-12 victory at Healy Park.

Hughes is one of a dozen survivors in the Armagh squad from the 2018 All-Ireland Qualifier against Roscommon in Portlaoise. That thrilling game finished 2-22 to 1-19 in the Rossies’ favour.

There was just a point between the sides as injury-time began after Armagh had clawed their way back into it. They looked likely to force extra-time but Roscommon hit 1-3 in the closing stages and progressed to the ‘Super 8′ stage. Armagh lost tight games like that back then but there is more steel in Kieran McGeeney’s men these days and they’ll go into Saturday’s last eight clash with confidence.

“We got over the line and into the quarter-final and that was the main objective,” said Hughes after the draw at Markievicz Park.

“We had to hang in because we were up against it at times. It’s a mentality thing, we knew we had to come out, we had to work, we were behind but we had the intensity and we pushed on.

“Galway played well, they were sitting back in, catching us on the counter and clipping over scores.

“We were probably a wee bit wasteful but we got ourselves going in the second half and got the result and now we want to push on in the quarter-final.”