GAA Football

History shows Armagh will be a bigger threat to Donegal second time around

Down went to Celtic Park and won in 2013, but were sent back there five weeks later for a qualifier and were "nearly beaten before we ever took the field", recalls Benny Coulter. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“WE were near beat before we ever took the pitch,” Benny Coulter admits with a hint of glumness almost a decade on.

This was the summer of 2013, when Down played Derry twice in the space of five weeks, both away from home.

In the first game they’d gone in four points down at Celtic Park but come out and overwhelmed Derry in a frenetic second half. James McCartan’s men scored 2-15 of their 2-17 from play and won by five.

But in a little over a month the same two teams were back in the same venue. The fact Down had to go up there twice forced a rule change in the winter time, that home venue would reverse in future circumstances, but that was far too late for them by then.

Second day out, Down’s scoring return would be chopped to pieces. Of the 1-5 they got in the second game, 0-4 of it came from frees. They scored a single Donal O’Hare free in the entire second half.

There was no surprise that it was a different game. Down had gone very defensives in the Ulster semi-final and almost gazumped Donegal, whereas Derry had been asked by manager Brian McIver to learn to be a bit more cynical.

“Psychologically, in your heads, it’s just the worst draw we could have got,” says Coulter.

“We played really well the first game, got a good victory over Derry, and then the fact we had to go back to Celtic Park for a second time three or four weeks later, it was just so deflating for us.

“It wasn’t really mentioned in the changing rooms and James didn’t really bring it up but we knew as players, f*** me, it’s gonna be very difficult to go down to Celtic Park and win again.

“You’re going down there, same routine but Derry probably learned more from it than we did.”

It’s just more difficult for the winning team to learn. They’re coming from a position of having been perceived to have done things better. You don’t rip up a winning formula, right?

And that allowed Derry to hammer the hammer. Down completely dominated midfield in the first game and Kevin McKernan scored 0-4 from play.

PJ McCloskey was available the second day for just his second game in three months for Derry. Patsy Bradley famously had to be rolled off the pitch after the game that day, such was the effort he put in to setting matters right.

McIver moved Ryan Bell out of midfield into the attack and he was superb. Derry brought the change to the game and up against an opponent that naturally felt more confident in the strengths that had earned them victory the first day, the result reversed.

Such has been the way on so many occasions since the qualifiers were introduced in 2001, when three of the four All-Ireland quarter-finals were repeats of provincial ties – and two were won by the ‘other’ team.

Eventual winners Galway avenged their Connacht semi-final loss to Roscommon while Derry beat Tyrone in their second meeting. Having edged home by a point in Leinster, it took Meath an All-Ireland quarter-final replay that they were lucky to earn to get over Westmeath.

“Whenever it was announced it was Derry and Tyrone, and taking it back to Clones when we were looking to get a run to Croke Park, I had a feeling things just weren’t going to go our way in that game,” recalled former Tyrone defender Chris Lawn last year.

“Derry had nothing to lose, which is ideal. They still had some players on that team, and take the likes of Paddy Bradley coming in, him fresh and bouncing. In hindsight, they were primed and in a far, far better place than we were.”

If you count last weekend’s Tailteann Cup meeting of Wexford and Offaly, Sunday’s Donegal-Armagh encounter will be the 23rd time in 21 years that it has happened.

Of the previous 22, there have been just eight occasions when the winner of the first game backed it up by winning the second as well.

The big caveat in that statistic is that Cork could beat Kerry plenty in Munster during the 2000s, but they just could never do it in Croke Park.

The Rebels won provincial meetings in 2002, 2006 (a replay), 2008 and 2009, but lost subsequent All-Ireland semi-finals (three, one after a replay) and a final to their nearest and dearest.

Of all the autobiographies out of Kerry since then, Colm Cooper’s offers the most telling insight into their mindset.

“We just know they don’t believe they can beat us there,” wrote Colm Cooper of Kerry's 2000s record against Cork in Croke Park, which was markedly different to how they fared in the Munster championship. Picture by Sportsfile

Telling of the 2006 games, he wrote of never “seriously entertaining the idea of defeat” and the “rhythm to this rivalry and it’s one, I suspect, that’s beginning to send them crackers”.

He called a Croke Park meeting with his team Cork’s “biggest dread” in reference to 2006, and then said they were their neighbours’ “worst nightmare” when they scored a fifth consecutive Croke Park win over their rivals.

“We just know they don’t believe they can beat us there,” he said.

So there’s that side to it. And without quite the same body of evidence to back it up, you could pin the same tail on the Monaghan-Tyrone rivalry, where provincially the Farneymen have done well but haven’t been able to win a big Croke Park meeting, most notably the 2018 All-Ireland semi-final after they’d gone to Omagh and won well earlier in the year.

The whole area is such a different psychological ball-game from a replay, where no-one has gotten it right enough to win the first one and both teams are looking at what they might do differently.

Part of it is maybe revenge and the ability to get angry but a lot of it is in the learning.

Armagh dropped off the Donegal kickout in the first half, didn’t attack the game at all, and couldn’t find any way out on their own restarts.

Donegal and Armagh have been paired off together for the second time in just seven weeks. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

They’ll zone in on those three areas this week, whereas what do Donegal do? They’ll just play the way they play because it was more than good enough the first day.

“Armagh know that they’ve a lot to improve on from that last day against Donegal, whereas Donegal were probably maxed out,” opines Coulter.

“That was like a different Armagh team playing on Sunday [against Tyrone], in terms of how they went at it. With Donegal having suffered that defeat to Derry, that’ll be tough on them too.

“You’re looking at them and thinking what can they bring to the table that we haven’t already seen. The only thing might be putting Murphy on the edge of the square and pumping ball in, asking different questions. They haven’t changed much in 10 years.”

History tells us that just seven weeks down the line from their first meeting, Armagh are a far bigger threat to Donegal now.

Total: 22
Won by same team: 8
Won by other team: 14

2001 provincial series: Donegal 1-16 Fermanagh 2-13; Donegal 0-11 Fermanagh 1-9; Antrim 0-9 Derry 1-11; Westmeath 1-14 Meath 2-12; Derry 0-14 Tyrone 3-7; Galway 0-14 Roscommon 2-12
2001 All-Ireland series:
Fermanagh 1-6 Donegal 0-15 (Rd1); Antrim 0-7 Derry 1-10 (Rd2); Meath 2-12 Westmeath 3-9 (AIQF); Meath 2-10 Westmeath 0-11 (replay); Derry 1-9 Tyrone 0-7 (AIQF); Galway 0-14 Roscommon 1-5 (AIQF)

2002 provincial series: Cork 0-15 Kerry 1-9
2002 All-Ireland series: Kerry 3-19 Cork 2-7 (AISF)

2003: None
2004: None

2005 provincial series: Cork 0-11 Kerry 1-11; Armagh 2-8 Tyrone 0-14; Armagh 0-13 Tyrone 0-11
2005 All-Ireland series: Kerry 1-19 Cork 0-9 (AISF); Tyrone 1-13 Armagh 1-12 (AISF)

2006 provincial series: Kerry 0-10 Cork 0-10; Cork 1-12 Kerry 0-9
2006 All-Ireland series: Kerry 0-16 Cork 0-10 (AISF)

2007 provincial series: Westmeath 1-13 Longford 2-13; Kerry 1-15 Cork 1-13
2007 All-Ireland series: Westmeath 0-18 Longford 0-9 (Rd1); Kerry 3-13 Cork 1-9 (AIF)

2008 provincial series: Cork 1-16 Kerry 1-11
2008 All-Ireland series: Kerry 1-13 Cork 3-7 (AISF); Kerry 3-14 Cork 2-13 (replay)

2009 provincial series: Derry 1-10 Monaghan 0-10; Kerry 0-13 Cork 1-10; Cork 1-17 Kerry 0-12
2009 All-Ireland series: Monaghan 0-20 Derry 3-16 (Rd2); Kerry 0-16 Cork 1-9 (AIF)

2010: None

2011 provincial series: Limerick 3-9 Kerry 1-26
2011 All-Ireland series: Kerry 1-20
Limerick 0-10 (AIQF)

2012 provincial series: Westmeath 0-14 Louth 2-9
2012 All-Ireland series: Westmeath 1-15
Louth 0-12 (Rd1)

2013 provincial series: Derry 1-15 Down 2-17
2013 All-Ireland series: Derry 0-13
Down 1-5 (Rd2)

2014: None

2015 provincial series: Fermanagh 1-15 Antrim 0-8
2015 All-Ireland series: Fermanagh 1-21 Antrim 0-11 (Rd2)

2016: None

2017 provincial series: Down 1-14 Monaghan 0-15
2017 All-Ireland series: Monaghan 1-24 Down 1-14 (Rd4)

2018 provincial series: Tyrone 1-16 Monaghan 1-18
2018 All-Ireland series: Tyrone 1-13
Monaghan 0-15 (AISF); Tyrone 0-14 Dublin 1-14 (Super 8s); Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 1-14 (AIF)

2019: None
2020: None
2021: None

2022 provincial series: Wexford 1-15 Offaly 1-12; Donegal 1-16 Armagh 0-12
2022 All-Ireland series: Offaly 3-11 Wexford 2-13 (Tailteann Cup); Donegal v Armagh

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