GAA Football

Armagh are fed up being gallant losers: Aidan Forker

Monaghan's Stephen O'Hanlon and Michael Brannigan celebrate their narrow victory over Armagh last Saturday Picture: Philip Walsh

AIDAN Forker says he is fed up coming out on the losing end in great games with Armagh and believes their dramatic Ulster Championship exit to Monaghan was self-inflicted.

Both the Orchard men and Monaghan earned rave reviews following last Saturday’s classic encounter that swung one way then the other before the Farneymen edged it in stoppage-time.

Armagh conceded a staggering four goals in the first half in Newry and trailed by eight points at one point – but they showed unbelievable recuperative powers to go in front by two with seven minutes of normal time remaining thanks to second-half goals from substitutes Conor Turbitt and Tiernan Kelly.

But it was a lead they couldn’t hold onto in the closing stages as Conor McManus converted two nerveless frees in the 74th and 75th minutes, adding to a 65th minute free.

“We don’t want to be part of great games and finish up losing,” said Forker, who had an immense game after coming on as 29th minute substitute to steady the Armagh defence.

“We knew we were really up against it but at half time we said we’d get four scores and leave three in it and the goal chances would come, and they did.

“'Turbo' [Conor Turbitt] did exceptional for his goal and obviously ‘TK’ [Tiernan Kelly] was always dangerous in there. But some of our experienced players should have used the ball a bit better going down the stretch, and obviously legs are tired and that can affect your decision-making.

“We were poor in that stage of the game when we were two up. The ball is gold dust at that stage, you can’t let it go that easily.

“But as we said after the game - we win together, we lose together. It’s just gutting because we had a great opportunity.”

Armagh’s semi-final preparations were thrown into chaos after goalkeeper Blaine Hughes was declared unavailable 24 hours before the game.

Hughes has been one of Armagh’s most consistent players this year – but the number one jersey was handed to Killeavy rookie Shea Magill to make his Championship debut.

After a difficult start the teenager steadied himself and improved as the semi-final wore on. While some of his early kick-outs malfunctioned, Forker leapt to the youngster’s defence and felt he wasn’t afforded the proper protection as Monaghan raced through virtually unchallenged to hit four goals.

“It’s impossible for a keeper to save a goal when you’ve two men coming down your throat,” said the Maghery clubman.

“It’s nothing on Shea. He’s only 18 or 19 years old and after a bit of a hiccup with Blaine during the week, he stepped in. Listen, it wasn’t Shea who gave those balls away when we were going down the stretch and were two up.”

With no back door system in place in the football Championship it’ll be a long time before the Armagh players will get to exorcise the bitter memory of last Saturday’s defeat.

Armagh were aiming to reach their first Ulster final since Peter McDonnell’s 2008 team. A significant consolation for Kieran McGeeney’s men is that they retained their hard-earned Division One status and will hope to get a full league programme under their belts in 2022.

“Playing at this level always helps,” Forker said.

“It was important to stay there. We’ll take the learnings from it but it’s sore. We’ll see where we want to go as a group. Obviously it’s nice being up there in Division One and playing against the top teams.”

Forker was deemed unfit to start last Saturday’s clash but suffered no ill-effects to calf and ankle problems that curtailed his preparation.

“It’s hard to push him on,” said McGeeney after Saturday’s defeat.

“Normally, Aidan, [Ryan] Kennedy and Paddy Burns would be our full-back line. You still want your top players but in fairness Ross Finn, Aaron McKay stepped in and did a great job. Aidan hasn’t trained, for three or four weeks he had the ankle and then the calf went on him, same with Paddy, it was unfortunate.”

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