Colm Cavanagh: Penalties provide drama and excitement but no shortage of agony for the losing team

Armagh's Ethan Rafferty fails to save Galway's first penalty during the GAA All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter Final between Armagh and Galway on 06-26-2022 at Croke Park Dublin. Pic Philip Walsh.

WHAT a week of highs and lows it has been.

Firstly, may I join the rest of the GAA family in passing my sincerest condolences to the family, friends, teammates, and anyone who was lucky enough to know Damian Casey. Our county and the sport of hurling have lost a genuine great of the game but moreover his friends and family have lost a true gentleman. I was only lucky enough to be in Damian’s company on a few occasions but each time he was genuine, kind, and friendly. His talent was clear for all to see, and I have no doubt he will be greatly missed. Ar dhéis Dé go raibh anam uasal.

Armagh footballers provided both highs and lows on Sunday afternoon. Supporters were out in force and the atmosphere around Croke Park seemed electric. The game was nip and tuck throughout until Galway started to pull away before Armagh realised it was now or never and they pulled out all the stops between scoring two goals and Rian O’Neill’s absolute wonder point to push the game to extra-time. The calm he showed under pressure was something to behold, a score that will be saved in the memory of every Armagh fan – I’m looking forward to seeing it being attempted on training pitches up and down the country over the next few weeks.

The scenes which followed the full-time whistle will unfortunately be what Armagh will be remembered by on the day. One individual’s actions taking over the headlines when it could have been so different. There have been enough trials by media and social media already, so I won’t add any fuel to the fire but just to say that there is absolutely no place for that in sport, or anywhere else for that matter. I can fully understand that tempers get frayed, and the intensity of the big occasion can get to people but leave it to the players on the field to battle it out during the game.

Extra-time was another rollercoaster, and the teams couldn’t yet be separated. Every man was completely out on their feet having given everything they could find, with penalties being the decision-maker on the day. There has been some debate on this since, and I have to say that there probably isn’t a more intense or exciting way for a game to be decided on the day than penalties. I understand those calling for a replay but personally I think it is better for the players to have a result on the day (even if it isn’t the result they would have wanted).

To go home after giving your all for over 90 minutes of intense football, to have to do it all again in six days and expect the same level of support from travelling fans is a lot to ask. Replays rarely live up to the original and it then becomes a case of what could have been. I understand that penalties aren’t considered a standard skill in GAA but when we have goalkeepers who play outfield and defenders who are also top scorers, maybe it is time to take the blinkers off. The pressure on the penalty takers and the goalkeeper is immense and I applaud every one of them for stepping up and having a go.

I have to commend Damien Comer for coming back out in the second half, giving it his all, stepping up and converting his penalty and then having the gamesmanship to shake hands with every Armagh man he passed on the pitch at the end. Pure class.

It wasn’t to be for Armagh on the day but all those on the pitch can be proud of themselves and I know their supporters were delighted at the run of days out they have had, and I have no doubt they can look forward to more of the same next year.

Our other Ulster representatives had a much more subdued game on Saturday. Derry got the better of Clare with a comprehensive victory. The excitement and intensity of the match was nothing in comparison to Sunday’s game but that was through no fault of Derry, they were just too good for what was in front of them on the day. Their supporters will no doubt bring a noisy and expectant sea of red and white to Croke Park when they take on Galway.

I can imagine that this week will be all about recovery for Galway. They have been through a battle and there will be a lot of sore bodies this week. Derry will look very closely at the Armagh game, how Armagh came back, where Galway showed weakness and they will have a gameplan ready to go out and give it absolutely everything.

The winners of the second semi-final between Kerry and Dublin will be going into the final as favourites but it would be great to have Ulster representation in the final and I look forward to seeing how Derry can perform under pressure on the big stage, even if it does mean I will have staff missing from the office for a few more Mondays yet!.


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