GAA Football

Pressure on McGeeney to deliver for Armagh in Tyrone clash: Conor Gormley

Kieran McGeeney's Armagh will welcome neighbours Tyrone to the Athletic Grounds on June 5 for a winner-takes-all All-Ireland qualifier. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

IT will be last chance saloon for All-Ireland champions Tyrone when they travel to face Armagh on June 5 – but former Red Hand star Conor Gormley believes more pressure will rest on the shoulders of Orchard boss Kieran McGeeney at the Athletic Grounds.

Gormley and McGeeney were central figures as a Noughties rivalry captured the imagination in Ulster and beyond, and yesterday’s All-Ireland qualifying round one draw has brought them together again for another huge clash.

It comes just three months after a controversial finish to the National League clash between the counties in Omagh, when four Tyrone players - Michael McKernan, Padraig Hampsey, Peter Harte and Kieran McGeary – and Armagh’s Greg McCabe were dismissed following some ugly scenes at the Athletic Grounds.

And the stakes are much higher this time around.

Tyrone have already seen hopes of defending their Ulster crown ended by neighbours on one side after Derry’s remarkable victory in Omagh, and the thought of losing their grip on Sam Maguire at the hands of Armagh is almost too much to bear for Red Hand followers.

Yet Gormley also believes that, in the wake of their disappointing display in defeat to Donegal, Armagh – and manager McGeeney - also have major questions to answer heading into this winner-takes-all encounter.

“It’s a great draw for both, and obviously it brings up the memories of the Noughties and the battles we had with them,” said the three-time All-Ireland winner.

“It actually throws me back a bit to 2005 when we drew Dublin in the quarter-final, part of you was probably going ‘oh no’, but I remember Brian Dooher rubbing the hands going ‘lethal boys, that’s the team we want’ – and we went out and played some exceptional football.

“I’m sure Tyrone this year are the same, it’s just a matter of getting their head around what happened against Derry. If it was me, I’d be definitely thinking ‘yes, that’s the one we want’, because if you get over Armagh - which is a mighty challenge for them - anything can happen after that. The sky’s the limit.

“Armagh will be thinking the same too, they’ll have been very disappointed with how things went against Donegal. There’s probably a bit more pressure on McGeeney going into this - he’s been there now a long time, they’re at home, the crowd in Armagh will be demanding a big display.

“They really have to show something.”

Both counties have enjoyed success through the back door in the past, with Tyrone’s All-Ireland successes of 2005 and 2008 coming via the qualifiers. And Gormley believes that staring down the barrel of an early Championship exit will bring the best from the Red Hands.

“It’ll be no problem getting the mind tuned and getting focused in,” said the Carrickmore man, part of the Tyrone minor management team looking forward to Sunday’s Ulster final clash with Derry in Clones.

“They play with a bit more freedom, the experience of last year, being written off after losing that last League game in Killarney, then look what they went and done.

“That backs against the wall sort of football nearly seems to suit Tyrone at time, and hopefully that’s the case on Sunday week.”

Armagh v Tyrone wasn’t the only big pairing to come out of yesterday’s qualifier draw, with the all-Division One showdown between Mayo and Monaghan set for Castlebar on the Saturday evening of June 4.

It will be a first Championship meeting the counties, with last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists Mayo coming out on top with they met in the League at the start of February.

James Horan’s side are aiming to get their campaign back on track after losing out to Galway in Connacht, while Monaghan came a cropper against Derry in the Ulster semi-final – with Seamus McEnaney’s men out to save their season at MacHale Park.

Elsewhere, Mickey Harte’s Louth side travel to Pairc Ui Chaomh to face Cork while Cusack Park in Ennis hosts the clash of Clare and Meath. Both those games are also on June 4.

QUALIFIER DRAW

Saturday, June 4

Clare v Meath (Cusack Park, 5pm – live on GAAGO)

Mayo v Monaghan (Castlebar, 4pm – live on Sky Sports)

Cork v Louth (Pairc Ui Chaoimh, 2pm – live on GAAGO)

Sunday, June 5

Armagh v Tyrone (Athletic Grounds, 1.30pm – live on RTE2)

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