John Gildea: Pressure is all on Armagh ahead of Ulster final

Donegal will be happy with progress they’ve made this year, win or lose on Sunday says Glenties man

Donegal’ swamp the attack of Armagh’s Peter McGrane during todays Allianz GAA Football league Div 2 final at Croke Park, Dublin.  Picture Mark Marlow
Donegal are unbeaten so far this year in League and Championship, having drawn with Armagh in Division Two and beating the Orchard county in the League final at Croke Park Picture: Mark Marlow

All the pressure will be on Armagh to win that elusive Ulster title as they lock horns on a 50/50 game, according to former Donegal great John Gildea.

Gildea, who was on a few Donegal teams that suffered defeat, at the hands of a Kieran McGeeney-inspired Armagh in the Noughties and believes that Sunday’s Ulster final in Clones could be a defining moment for the Orchard County manager and his team.

Gildea repeated Michael Murphy’s point that Armagh are “10 years into their evolution journey and we are just 10 months into ours.”

“The reality is that while Jim McGuinness would love to win an Ulster title, he must be very happy with the progress that has been achieved this year as have the people of Donegal, no matter what happens on Sunday,” Gildea said.

“Ultimately, Donegal are unbeaten this year, they have come out of Division Two, won the League and beat what could be classed as two of the best teams in Ulster, so Jim is going in with the whole county behind him.

“Donegal are ahead of schedule, and they are in bonus territory and the team is getting stronger all the time.”

He added: “The flip side of that is that Kieran McGeeney has been there for 10 years, and they haven’t got across the line in big games when it really mattered.

“When they were a point up going down the straight, they found a way to lose but ultimately, they are a very good side, and they play excellent football, and they should have beaten Derry in last year’s Ulster final.

“They have a lot of pedigree, and they have all the tools that you would need to win an Ulster title and they haven’t done it.

“So, is that a bonus or a positive for them, that they are so keen to win or is it going to be an on-going monkey on their backs?”

When asked if those near misses will be a big motivating factor for Armagh, he said:

“It is huge but that can work for you or against you.

“That level of almost desperation where you have lost games you should have won, and you really need an Ulster title and that is a huge motivator and will be a huge driving force for them.

“But if things go against you, then that becomes a huge pressure on your back and things can go wrong as well and it is very hard to tell what way this game will go as we all anticipate that it is going to be a very tight game.”

Donegal drew with Armagh away in the League and then beat them by a point in the Division Two final and Gildea feels there is “only a kick of a ball between them at this stage.”

“Armagh will be coming into this feeling that they left the League title behind them, and they were missing a few men while Donegal have improved and are growing in confidence, and we have key men like Niall and Shane O’Donnell playing really well” he said.

“But it will be very hard to call a winner.

“But I would suggest that there will be much more pressure on Armagh to deliver because of the journey they have been on and I would imagine that Kieran McGeeney is under a bit of pressure as, if you go to the well a few times and you don’t come away with what you want, then people are going to start asking questions.”

The Donegal players celebrate after Sunday's Ulster semi-final victory over Tyrone at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
The Donegal players celebrate after Sunday's Ulster semi-final victory over Tyrone at Celtic Park. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has been critical of the compressed nature of the Ulster Championship and the short turnaround time it affords teams. However Gildea believes that the tough test against Tyrone, coming just a week after their win over Derry, is ideal preparation for Sunday’s joust in Clones.

“There was euphoria, and a lot of people were getting carried away after the Derry victory,” he said.

“And I am sure that Jim McGuinness and the players will agree that it was a freak result against Derry in a lot of ways.

“You don’t anticipate scoring four goals against Derry in the Ulster Championship.

“Jim McGuinness targeted certain things and they worked out ,but you would not expect that every day.

“Tyrone was a game that really reflected what the Ulster Championship is all about.

“It was a kick of a ball, very strategic, hold on to the ball.

“What I liked about it was that Donegal were in a hole two or three times in that game, but they found a way to dig themselves out of the hole which is incredible from their own confidence point of view.It showed great resilience and will stand to them against Armagh.

“For Armagh will ask questions, both physically and tactically as they are a very well organised, structured team who have been together for some time.

“They know what they are about, and the other side of the equation is that it is an Ulster final which brings its own pressures.

“A lot of our players have not been there before-but it will be a great tactical battle to see how both managers will try and get the better of the guy on the other side of the field.

“But for me, Armagh are under more pressure to deliver because they have been around longer.”