GAA Football

Armagh defender Brendan Donaghy on second tier: 'It turns my stomach, the thought of it'

Armagh defender Brendan Donaghy has no interest in playing in a 'B' championship. Picture by Seamus Loughran

ARMAGH defender Brendan Donaghy says the idea of playing in a second-tier championship “turns my stomach” and is “an insult” to players.

New GAA president John Horan said last week that he wants to see the All-Ireland SFC split in two by the time his term ends in 2021.

While Armagh were All-Ireland quarter-finalists last year after a thrilling run that brought a sea of orange back to Croke Park, they have plied their trade in Division Three of the National League for the last two years.

Their 0-7 apiece draw with Fermanagh on Sunday was enough to see the Orchard promoted, while Fermanagh remain in contention to go up too, having reached the last eight of the championship themselves as recently as 2015.

Had the championship been split on the basis of league gradings this year, their summer Ulster Championship meeting could well have taken place in a ‘B’ championship but the experienced Clonmore defender is very much against the idea.

“It turns my stomach, the thought of it. I can’t think of anything worse. It’s an insult to all the footballing counties up and down the country.

“I’m sure if you asked any player, regardless of what division they’re in or where they’re at, if they wanted to play in a ‘B’ championship, I know from my own point of view and everybody in that changing room, they’d be disgusted.

“[Last year’s run] is the sort of stages of the championship you’d always want to be at. Nobody, when they start playing football, aspires to be playing in a ‘B’ championship.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t sit and think to myself ‘ah, winning Sam Maguire would be good but if I could win something lesser, that’d be a good job’.

“Nobody would ever think on those terms, everyone wants to be competing at the highest level.

“For someone to turn around and say that just because you’re in Division Three, you’re not allowed to enter this competition, I think it’s an awful kick in the teeth to anybody that puts the effort in all year.”

Donaghy, who was one of the stars in their run through the back door last summer, was making his first start of the season having suffered two different hamstring injuries that had restricted his involvement thus far.

Of the 21 players that played in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone, they began Sunday’s game without eight starters and four of the subs used that day.

Yet despite their absentee list, a positive result against already-relegated Wexford would see them through the league campaign unbeaten.

“You’d still have a core bunch of fellas that want to push on,” Donaghy told The Irish News.

“Any of the new fellas that are coming in, it’s for us to try and set the standards for them of what we’d expect from their behaviour, and what we would see an Armagh footballer being.

“The younger lads have stepped up to the mark. Greg McCabe was there last year but got hit with a bad injury against Tipperary; he’s been one of the leaders this year.

“Paddy Burns has been there two or three years but spent nearly that whole time in rehab, and he’s nearly nailed himself in now at corner-back. Niall Grimley’s pushed on massively from last year.

“It’s good to see that, even if there is a turnover, boys are stepping up to the mark," said the 31-year-old.

Meanwhile, Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney confirmed that Ethan Rafferty’s knee scan last week revealed “bony bruising” and that his recuperation should be short-term.

Paul Hughes is in a race against time for the championship meeting with Fermanagh on May 19 with an ankle tendon injury, while Joe McElroy will be out for “4 or 5 weeks” with a hamstring injury.

“Hopefully [Ryan] McShane and [Mark] Shields will be coming back from their ankle injuries soon. Aaron McKay was back into a small bit of contact this week,” said McGeeney.

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