GAA Football

Most Memorable Match series: Victory over Dublin in 2002 was the greatest feeling of them all: Armagh's Stevie McDonnell

Armagh's Steven McDonnell recalls his best day of his playing career

In our new Most Memorable Match series, Stevie McDonnell takes a trip down memory lane with Brendan Crossan and recalls his best moment wearing the Armagh jersey...

 

Sunday September 1 2002: All-Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final; Dublin 1-13 Armagh 1-14

“During my career I was lucky to play in so many big Championship games but my most memorable match was undoubtedly the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin in 2002.

“The reason why it sticks out in my mind is when you play in front of a packed house in Croke Park it’s just a spine-tingling experience. There’s something special about playing Dublin as they always bring a festival atmosphere to the occasion.

“The match itself was a humdinger. We fancied ourselves before the game. That Armagh team always believed we could win every game we played in. That was the amazing thing about it. But, of course, a lot of people were writing us off before that semi-final because we hadn’t won a Championship game in Croke Park.

“At that time, Dublin were making a breakthrough as well in Leinster. They’d beaten Kildare in the Leinster final earlier that summer which was their first provincial title since ’95.

“For me, there was very little between ourselves and Dublin that day. It was point for point. Even when we scored a goal – Paddy McKeever scrambled the ball over the line in the 40th minute – a few minutes later Dublin went straight up the field and Ciaran Whelan scored a brilliant goal. It was an absolute clinker, coming off the underside of the crossbar.

“People always ask me what's the best point I ever scored. The two points I scored against Dublin that day were two of my very best as they were under serious pressure. The first one I scored came as a huge relief. It really settled me down because the last All-Ireland semi-final I played in, in 2000 against Kerry, I didn’t play particularly well, so it was important for me to get an early score in the Dublin game.

“I scored a point in each half and both were actually very similar scores, both underneath the Hogan stand. Coman Goggins marked me that day. Coman was a very seasoned defender at that time. I was only 23 while Coman had been around the block. I did a lot of things well in the game and probably got the upper hand on him.

“For my first point (in the 14th minute to make the score Dublin 0-3 Armagh 0-2) I turned in-field, swung and kicked almost immediately. We were kicking into the Hill in the first half.

“It felt as if the ball was in the air forever. It was more hit-and-hope, if I’m being honest, and it went over the bar.”

Half-time: Dublin 0-6 Armagh 0-6

“The second point, which came in the second half (in the 37th minute to put Armagh 0-7 to 0-6 ahead), was without a shadow of a doubt my favourite-ever point in my entire career.

“John Toal received the ball near the sideline and he gave it to me. Once again I was running away from goal towards the Hogan stand, but I turned to my left and kicked almost immediately. The ball split the posts and probably could have gone another 20 or 30 yards further because I connected so well with it.

“But it was the first point that gave me the confidence to do that. When you’re playing in critical games, certain points help boost a player’s confidence – and that first point did that, and gave me the relaxed state of mind to kick that second point.

“There were moments in the game where I thought: ‘We are not going to lie down here.’ Paddy McKeever’s goal was one of those moments. Another was Oisin’s fisted point when he took Paul Casey on along the end-line.

“Oisin rose to the challenge when the pressure was on and put the ball over the bar. It’s those things that stick out in your mind. And the nail-biting moment at the end when all of Armagh, across the globe, held their breath when Ray Cosgrove’s free hit the post in the dying seconds.

“Given the summer that Ray had, I never expected him to hit the post. I think it was Francie Bellew that picked the ball up, he put it out to John McEntee and he found Aidan O’Rourke on the wing. It was the Armagh players who reacted quickest at that moment.

“People say we got lucky with Cosgrove’s missed free at the end. But we made our luck in that game and we made enough opportunities to win.

“There was huge relief at the final whistle because we’d been knocking on the door for the last couple of years. We’d been beaten in semi-finals before. So, to go to Croke Park and win a game was fantastic. To beat Dublin, who were many people’s favourites to win the All-Ireland that year, was another boost for us. To realise we were in an All-Ireland final, it was just the stuff of dreams. I can’t really remember what was said in the dressing room afterwards.”

Full-time: Dublin 1-13 Armagh 1-14

The post-match...

“What also stands out for me about that day is the credit that we received from the Dublin supporters. We went up to the lounge in Croke Park afterwards and got on the bus. As we pulled out of the stadium I just remember the Dublin supporters lining the streets applauding us as we drove by.

“I’ve a soft spot for Dublin simply because of that particular day and how they made us feel. Their team had just lost an All-Ireland semi-final, and yet here they were applauding our team bus. That epitomises what the GAA is about. I have huge respect for them: Take your defeat on the chin – but respect your opponent at all times.”

The celebrations...

“We went up the road and had a few beers that night, there was no drinks ban or anything like that. We would have gone to Lacey’s in the Carrickdale Hotel as we always did.

“We’d such a huge following. Every time we pulled into the Carrickdale there was always a massive influx of Armagh people there. And to be fair to [owner] John McParland, he went over and above for us every time. We were treated so well.

“We had a few weeks to look forward to playing in an All-Ireland final and we were going to enjoy the preparations. There were just so many good things in that Dublin game that have stayed with me, things that went in our favour but also the desire we showed to reach the final.

“I won the monthly Bass GAA Writers Monthly Award a couple of days later. Joe Kernan was with me and we had a conversation about the game. And I always remember Joe saying: ‘You did the simple things very, very well.’

“When Joe said that to me I remember there was a high ball came into me in the last couple of minutes and I caught the ball ahead of Coman Goggins and Paddy Christie and I laid it off to Oisin, that’s what Joe meant by that – just doing the simple things well. That’s why it was an important game for me because I did the simple things well.

“It was probably later on in my career I was hungrier to score more but the two points I got in the Dublin game was a good return given the tightness of the game."

Reflections...

“Looking back, I miss my playing days. You can never replace that feeling, that buzz of lining out for your team in big Championship occasions. I even looked forward to going to training with my team-mates.

“It was a hard slog but we always had a sense of direction when we were with the county. So I absolutely miss playing, I miss playing at the highest level. When you’re in that environment I would say to anybody, don’t take it for granted. Enjoy it. I always said that I wanted to quit on my terms. Did I reach my potential? Absolutely I did. My most memorable game may have been that All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin but my peak was in 2005/06.

“My last Championship game was in 2011. I scored eight points against Tyrone. I played on the International Rules team later that year and I had one of my best series. Paddy O’Rourke, who was managing Armagh at the time, invited me to come back in and offered me the captaincy which I really appreciated. But I decided to step away then, and it was the right decision.”

 

Irish News star man (v Dublin 2002): Stevie McDonnell

GAVE Goggins his fill of it throughout the game. Proved an excellent target, pace and movement a constant source of trouble for Dublin and confidence for Armagh. Scored two tremendous points, and though first touch was the best in the first half, McDonnell’s fielding strength for the long pass option was superb in the second. Won or broke a lot of possession and was involved in many of Armagh’s scoring sorties. Challenged for man-of-the-match by O’Rourke and young Clarke, and for Dublin the excellent Cosgrove. Fortunately for Armagh, he was deprived for long spells of the quality ball needed. McEntee’s second half display, the work of Enda McNulty and Dublin’s centre half-back Johnny Magee also caught the eye. 8.5

 

Quote…

"I took in my All-Ireland final jersey today and I showed it to the boys at half-time. I told them that I wanted everyone of them to own one. I told them the only way they were going to get one was by beating Dublin today.” – Armagh boss Joe Kernan

 

How they lined out…

Armagh: B Tierney; E McNulty, J McNulty, F Bellew; A O’Rourke, K McGeeney (capt.), A McCann; J Toal, P McGrane; P McKeever (1-2), J McEntee (0-3), O McConville (0-5); S McDonnell (0-2), R Clarke (0-2), D Marsden. Subs: K Hughes for McCann (44), P Loughran (59), B O’Hagan for Marsden (66), C O’Rourke for McKeever (70).

Blood Replacements: None.

Yellow Cards: K Hughes (51), A O’Rourke (54).

Red Cards: None.

Dublin: S Cluxton; B Cahill, P Christie, C Goggins (capt.); P Casey, J Magee, P Andrews; C Whelan (1-1), D Magee (0-1); S Connell (0-2), D Farrell, S Ryan; A Brogan (0-2), J McNally, R Cosgrove (0-6, two frees). Subs: C Moran (0-1) for Ryan (half-time), D Homan for D Magee (44), J Sherlock for McNally (62), D Darcy for Moran (70).

Blood Replacement: D Henry for Goggins (33).

Yellow Cards: J McNally (7), C Whelan (49), P Andrews (56).

Red Cards: None.

Referee: M Collins (Cork)

Attendance: 79,386

 

Dublin v Armagh Score-by-score...

2 mins: Cosgrove evades Bellew to set up Connell to score, Dublin 0-1 Armagh 0-0

6 mins: Connell returns favour to put Cosgrove in for a point, Dublin 0-2 Armagh 0-0

7 mins: Dubs flying as midfield win another break and D Magee points, Dublin 0-3 Armagh 0-0

10 mins: McKeever opens the Orchard account from play, Armagh 0-1 Dublin 0-3

14 mins: McDonnell hits an awesome points from 35m, Armagh 0-2 Dublin 0-3

17 mins: After early misses McConville converts a free, Armagh 0-3 Dublin 0-3

19 mins: Brogan gains weak free, Cosgrove makes no mistake, Dublin 0-4 Armagh 0-3

21 mins: Great score by Clarke who takes a hard hit to point, Armagh 0-4 Dublin 0-4

25 mins: Pin-ball passing, brilliant Dubs forward play as Cosgrove points, Dublin 0-5 Armagh 0-4

28 mins: Cosgrove punishes crowding tactic with a freekick, Dublin 0-6 Armagh 0-4

33 mins: Goggins catches McDonnell and McConville converts free, Armagh 0-5 Dublin 0-6

35 mins: In stoppage time Clarke forces a free off Christie and McConville points, Armagh 0-6 Dublin 0-6

Half-Time: Armagh 0-6 Dublin 0-6

37 mins: McDonnell scores with a magnificent shot from right wing, Armagh 0-7 Dublin 0-6

38 mins: Lightning move, Cosgrove lays off for Connell to score, Dublin 0-7 Armagh 0-7

40 mins: Toal and Marsden force opening, Marsden breaking for McKeever to burst in and bundle ball into Dublin’s net for a goal, Armagh 1-7 Dublin 0-7

41 mins: Whelan breaks from midfield and finishes his run with a fabulous shot into the Armagh net for a spectacular, immediate reply, Dublin 1-7 Armagh 1-7

42 mins: Dublin on a roll as Brogan in sharply to point, Dublin 1-8 Armagh 1-7

43 mins: Big score from McEntee takes the heat out of the situation, Armagh 1- 8 Dublin 1-8

46 mins: Moran out first, shows and finishes superbly for a point, Dublin 1-9 Armagh 1-8

47 mins: Another impressive piece of attacking play from Whelan ends with a point, Dublin 1-10 Armagh 1-8

48 mins: McKeever steadies Armagh again with a fine point, Armagh 1-9 Dublin 1-10

50 mins: Armagh goal chance as McEntee storms in on the left but blazes over, Armagh 1-10 Dublin 1- 10

54 mins: Easy chance as Brogan given space and time to pick his spot, Dublin 1-11 Armagh 1-10

57 mins: Armagh turn over the ball again as attack denied and Cosgrove hits point at other end, Dublin 1- 12 Armagh 1-10

59 mins: Clarke wins free off Christie, McConville points, Armagh 1-11 Dublin 1-12

61 mins: Cosgrove peels away from Bellew to take a fine point, Dublin 1-13 Armagh 1-11

63 mins: Clarke hits his most important point of the season to steady the ship and launch a match-winning three minutes of scoring, Armagh 1-12 Dublin 1-13

64 mins: McGrane and McDonnell involved before McEntee points the equaliser, Armagh 1-13 Dublin 1- 13

66 mins: McConville gets around the outside of Dublin’s defence, darts in along the end line from the right and fists his first point from play, and the deciding score, Armagh 1-14 Dublin 1-13

Full-Time: Armagh 1-14 Dublin 1-13

 

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