GAA Football

"Armagh have the players to do it but they have to deliver and that's the key to Championship football," says Diarmaid Marsden

Aidan Nugent (right) scored 1-6 when Armagh met Donegal in Division One this year. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

ARMAGH will need the temperament to match their quality if they are to beat Donegal in the Championship cauldron of Ballybofey on Sunday, says Diarmaid Marsden.

Marsden was part of the Armagh side that battled back to claim a thrilling draw at MacCumhaill Park in 1999. The Orchardmen went on to win the replay and later that summer ended a 17-year wait for the Ulster title by beating Down in the Angle-Celt decider.

There are clear parallels between then and now and, although he sees Armagh as “slight underdogs”, Marsden is confident Kieran McGeeney's side has the ability to cause an upset.

“Armagh are due a good run in the Championship and they're due a big scalp,” he said.

“Donegal are similar to where they were in 1999 – they've been there or thereabouts, contesting provincial finals and getting to All-Ireland quarter-finals and that's where Armagh need to get to.

“Going to Ballybofey, they're slight underdogs so you can see the similarities with 1999 and for this Armagh team to push on they need to be winning matches like this in that Championship cauldron.

“It'll be a sell-out crowd, a lot of people watching the match on television and that's when you need to deliver. You can talk and talk and talk and promise and promise but it all has to come to life on Sunday and I just hope that they can do it.”

Donegal have dominated their last two Ulster Championship meetings with Armagh. In 2015, McGeeney's first Championship game as Armagh manager, the Tir Chonaill men won by nine points and the gap was 12 points when the sides met in Cavan two years ago.

“The last one was very disappointing, the match was gone at half-time, Armagh just never got going at all and Donegal hit them with everything they had,” said Marsden, Head of Community Development at Ulster GAA.

“Armagh will be going out to keep things really secure at the back and they'll be trying to keep the scoreboard ticking over. They've got Aidan Nugent and Rian O'Neill available and Stefan (Campbell) on the bench to come in so they've plenty of scoring threats there and they need to utilise them.

“Teams have got through and scored regularly against Armagh but if they have a good platform around the middle then hopefully most of the play will be down the other end of the field.”

Nugent and O'Neill contributed 1-9 between them in the recent Division One encounter in Letterkenny but Donegal won the game thanks to Paddy McBrearty's injury-time point. Declan Bonner's side struggled for fluency in the League and Marsden believes they will be determined to prove their class in the Championship.

“People will be looking at both teams as potential provincial champions,” he said.

“It's a big game for Armagh and they need to win it but Donegal are under a bit of pressure too because they didn't perform well in the League.

“The likes of Ryan McHugh and McBrearty and Michael Murphy haven't been playing that well but they're three Allstar-quality footballers in what is a very strong, physical team from (Shaun) Patton right out. They haven't delivered on their potential, they've won a couple of Ulsters but they haven't progressed and they'll be looking for a good All-Ireland Championship this year. Every team has their own ambitions and on Sunday it's about which team is capable of taking those chances when they present themselves and shutting out the other team.

“I'm confident that Armagh have the players to do it but they have to deliver and that's the key to Championship football: You have to deliver on the day.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football