Winning a big game ugly will do Armagh no harm: Joe McElroy

McElroy pays heartfelt tribute to boss Kieran McGeeney

Joe McElroy's late goal broke Clare's resistance in Round Three of the All-Ireland Qualifiers Picture by Seamus Loughran
Joe McElroy has heaped praise on his manager Kieran McGeeney

ARMAGH’S Joe McElroy says he drew a certain satisfaction from being involved in an instantly forgettable All-Ireland quarter-final win over Roscommon at the weekend compared to coming out on the wrong side of a great game.

The Orchard men reached their first All-Ireland semi-final in 19 years last Saturday and will face favourites Kerry at Croke Park on Saturday July 13 (5.30pm).

Armagh have gone so close to winning Ulster titles and reaching All-Ireland semi-finals during Kieran McGeeney’s 10-year reign, but they finally got over the line.

During that time, Armagh have been arguably the most entertaining team on the inter-county circuit – losing classics to Roscommon (2018), Galway (2022), Derry (2023) and Donegal (2024).

“We’ve been involved in a load of unbelievable games with people saying, ‘game of the year’,” McElroy said.

“I think it was Roscommon we got beaten by in 2018 and it was meant to be game of the year. We got beaten by Galway two years ago on penalties and it was meant to be one of the games of the year.

“So, we’re just happy that we didn’t do overly well, and we got the win. I suppose that’s a wee bit of growth over the last couple of years, being able to win.

“We didn’t really hit the full throttle against Roscommon. We missed a lot of easy shots. Our marks and frees were a bit off as well, so we’re just hoping we can work on that the next day and those points will go over the bar.”

The Armagh supporters have been both an energiser and an unconscious burden on the team ever since they won their one and only All-Ireland title in 2002.

Conor Turbitt celebrates his second half goals with joyous Armagh fans on Hill 16. Picture: Sportsfile
Conor Turbitt celebrates his second half goal as Armagh eased past Roscommon in last Saturday's All-Ireland quarter-final Picture: Sportsfile (Harry Murphy / SPORTSFILE)

More titles were anticipated after ‘02 with expectations often outweighing the quality of successive squads.

But no county is more fanatically supported than Armagh.

“We actually would be quite a close-knit group, we’d go away to training camps at weekends and stay away from all that - but I have friends who are not involved in Gaelic and they think it’s an amateur sport and they wouldn’t expect the crowds that come to our games,” McElroy said.

“If you see the Armagh crowds, at the Athletic Grounds as well, the place is pumping. This is a county that is completely mad for football, which is so nice to see, when the children are running out looking for signatures.

“But I think you have to shut that out sometimes as well. Family and friends are sending pictures. My sister was actually in Glastonbury with a massive Armagh flag walking about the place. I’ve had texts from Australia and phone calls, it’s just unreal.

“The Armagh fans are the best in the country. For a county that’s relatively small and a county that hasn’t had much success over the years – I think Kieran was saying there were only five All-Ireland semi-finals that Armagh have played in…”

He added: “I think we build ourselves up a wee bit as well. We are a very proud county, but we haven’t been in this position that much, so we’re trying to make the most of the situation and we’ll really knuckle down over the next two weeks and see where it takes us.”

“We were just happy to get that quarter-final hoodoo out of the way.”

McElroy, who has been a mainstay of successive Armagh teams under McGeeney, paid a heartfelt tribute to his manager following the passing of his uncle (Peter Kelly) on the eve of last Saturday’s All-Ireland quarter-final against Roscommon.

“Usually, Kieran is always the one pulling us along and getting us ready and we just said before we left, we’re making sure that man gets into the semi-final.

“We were doing it for him because there’s no better man for this job. Losing your uncle is always going to be tough and the warrior that Kieran is, he just got on, professional as normal, game face on and got us ready for the match.”