We don’t want to be known as a team that quits...’ Armagh vow to keep fighting as Derry battle awaits

Armagh full-back Aaron McKay says Orchardmen remain focussed on Championship success

Armagh's Aidan Forker in action during the Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final at St Tiernach's Park, Clones
Armagh have suffered setback after setback but they remained determined to achieve success (Philip Walsh)

ARMAGH have taken more bodyblows and slaps in the face than a journeymen boxer over the last three seasons but they don’t feel sorry for themselves, insists Aaron McKay.

Penalty shootout losses have cost the Orchardmen two Ulster titles and two All-Ireland semi-final appearances but Armagh – who cross swords with Derry at Celtic Park on Sunday (4pm) - refuse to back down and victory will confirm their place in another All-Ireland quarter-final.

“It’s difficult to take – losing Ulster finals and even All-Ireland quarter-finals in the same manner,” said Armagh full-back McKay.

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself and play the victim card all the time because nine times out of 10 you get what you deserve. In three of those four games we were in positions where we should have seen the game out and won.

“The Galway game (All-Ireland quarter-final in 2022) was different because we were the team chasing near the end and we nearly robbed them. But we’ll not feel sorry for ourselves, we’ll keep going because we don’t want to be known as a team that quits.

Armagh's Aaron McKay. Pic Seamus Loughran
Aaron McKay is the lynchpin of a defence that has kept 10 clean sheets this season. Pic Seamus Loughran

“We’ll keep grinding away and hopefully, one of these days the rub of the green will go our way.”

Derry won back-to-back Ulster titles in 2022 and ‘23 but they have had their own share of disappointment, most notably last year when they missed out on an All-Ireland final appearance after pushing Kerry all the way at Croke Park.

Mickey Harte’s side will be desperate for the win that will kickstart their season after Championship losses against Donegal and Galway.

“They are a quality team,” said McKay.

“Derry have been flying this year, they’ve been going full at it since the McKenna Cup. They were probably sore after the Donegal match in the Ulster Championship and they didn’t get the result in Galway but it’s difficult playing with 14 men and they were still well in it. Shane (McGuigan) had a chance for a goal, it was saved and Galway went down the other end and killed it off. So we know the tough task we have on Sunday.”

McKay has been the lynchpin of an Armagh defence that has conceded just four goals in 12 League and Championship matches this year. Indeed, Cork and Down (two goals each) are the only teams that have breached an Orchard rearguard that has kept 10 clean sheets in front of goalkeeper Blaine Hughes. Even when Hughes was beaten against Fermanagh, McKay got back on his goalline and somehow kept out Oisin Smyth’s shot.

“We share the work load – it’s not all the defenders, the forwards are coming back and helping us out when we need it and that’s massive,” said the Dromintee clubman.

“If we keep the ball out of our net as much as we can and keep putting it over the other team’s bar we’ll not be far away.

“We’ll have a chance if we do that every week!”

Armagh go into Sunday’s game after bouncing back from their Ulster final loss with a businesslike victory over Westmeath last weekend. The Midlanders had come close to beating Armagh in 2023, but the Orchardmen were clear winners this time around.

“We were probably complacent last year so we didn’t want to come into the game with the same slow, sluggish start,” said McKay.

“Westmeath are a good team, they’re well organised and we had to be patient and wait for it to open up a bit and thankfully in the third quarter we opened up a bit of a gap and pushed on.

“We weren’t so happy with the fourth quarter, we took our foot off the gas a wee bit, our shot selection was a bit off and on another day that’s the stuff that costs you.”