GAA Football

Ulster Championship is toughest and Armagh have to be at their best against Antrim says Orchard assistant-manager Kieran Donaghy

The Anglo-Celt Cup is the toughest to win says Armagh assistant-manager Kieran Donaghy. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile.
Andy Watters

THE Anglo-Celt Cup is the toughest piece of provincial silverware to win, says Armagh assistant-manager Kieran Donaghy as he prepares for his first taste of the Ulster Championship.

Armagh will be firm favourites against Antrim on July 4 but Donaghy, an eight-time Munster Championship winner with Kerry, warns that the straight knockout format has brought a “bigger edge to proceedings”. One bad afternoon and it's all over.

“It's well known that Ulster is the toughest province to win, I think that has never really been in doubt,” said the Tralee native.

“For most of my career it was really just about Kerry and Cork and Cork were the second best team in Ireland in the early years, so we always knew that was the game we had to peak for whereas in Ulster it's hard to think that way.

“Every game has to be taken on its merits and you could lose any game. The knockout side of things has definitely brought a bigger edge to proceedings and the players are acutely aware that if you don't perform you're more than likely going to lose. The coaches that are going into every team now know the value of possession; all that is huge now in the game and for most teams what happened last year will have everybody on edge for every game.

“If you don't perform, you'll be like Kerry after the Cork game or Donegal after the Cavan game. That's a huge warning.

“Everyone knows it could be your last day if you don't play well so there's a big onus on the management groups and the players to make sure they deliver a performance.”

Armagh host an Antrim side that won promotion from Division Four this year and have shown a willingness to fight to the final whistle under new manager Enda McGinley. After being underdogs throughout their Division One campaign, Armagh will be hot favourites for the visit of the Saffrons and Antrim manager McGinley says the Orchard county's forwards are the best in Ulster.

“I would say he's probably trying to talk Armagh up,” responded Donaghy with a smile.

“We have high quality forwards but I wouldn't like to be saying that our forwards are better than the other teams'. When you look around and see when Cathal McShane gets back into that Tyrone team and what Monaghan had the last day with Conor McManus, Stephen O'Hanlon and Jack McCarron when he came on the last day… They have a huge forward line as well.

“Donegal are Donegal and Cavan are the Ulster champions, so I'm not going to profess anything. Our group have a lot to work on and to give them credit, they are putting a huge amount of time into it and we will continue to work hard.

“We are where we are and we're trying to go somewhere and I don't think you can profess that kind of stuff until you win things. We have a lot of stuff to be working on.”

If the Antrim boss McGinley paid a handsome tribute to Armagh, Donaghy repaid the compliment when he summed up the challenge the Saffrons will pose on July 4.

“We have a huge chance to go out against a very good Antrim side and put in a performance,” he said.

“When it comes to knockout Championship football that's the way it has to be. Antrim will be coming with such confidence, they haven't lost a game this year – they've won four and they've won all types of tight games, they've won games that haven't been the prettiest but they figured out a way to win and winning is a habit.

“They are a very dangerous obstacle and we have to be playing at our best and delivering on the stuff that we're working on on the training field.”

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GAA Football