GAA Football

Armagh and Derry setting sights on All-Ireland Final after downing Ulster's 'big three'

Derry captain Chrissy McKaigue and Armagh joint-captain Rian O'Neill could meet again in Croke Park next month.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

THE fear is real… That Tweet from Armagh's favourite former Tyrone star, Philip Jordan, accompanied by the Hashtag #SamOverTheBridge and the colours orange and white may have been a little tongue-in-cheek.

The Orchardmen are still only fourth favourites to lift the big one, despite their fabulous recent form, behind Dublin, Kerry, and Ulster Champions Derry in the betting.

However, Moy men won't sleep easy until somebody, anybody somehow stops Kieran McGeeney's men as they seek to end their 20-year wait for a second All-Ireland.

Tyrone took the trophy off their neighbours in 2003; Armagh would be doubly delighted to take it back out of Red Hands and across the Blackwater bridge this year.

Derry will feel they have a shot at bringing it over Ballinderry Bridge too.

The wheel of time really does seem to have turned back around 20-odd years.

As was the situation around 2000/2001/2002, Armagh and Derry are Championship forces again, and Galway are in the mix, as are, of course, as ever, Kerry.

The difference is Dublin, back to being the best team in the country after last year's aberration. Even then, they didn't lose in 70-plus minutes, only exiting after extra time against Mayo.

Before the Covid-enforced and then split season related formats over the past two seasons, some may say that the last knockout Championship was in 2000.

However, from 2001 to 2019 defeat still put you out of your provincial Championship, and another loss ended your All-Ireland hopes.

That won't be the case next season, with the round robin format for the provincials, allowing teams to potentially lose a couple of times and still progress to the All-Ireland series.

While we worry about the impact that will have on matches - and attendances - let's just enjoy this remarkable summer.

I noted on Sunday that Armagh had despatched two of Ulster's 'big three' of the past decade, knocking out Tyrone and then Donegal.

It would be remiss of me not to point out that Derry had softened both of those up: first humiliating the Red Hands in their Healy Park home, then edging out the Tir Chonaill men in a gripping Ulster Final decided after extra time (the first such finale since the 1976 Final replay, which was also won by the Oak Leafers, against Cavan ????).

Derry also wounded Monaghan, beating them well in the Ulster semi-final, so both they and Armagh are well worthy of their places in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

While no one, not even Dublin, would have wanted to be paired against Armagh after their past two performances, Derry are formidable opponents too.

Indeed, Rory Gallagher's team look like having a better chance of reaching the semi-finals, pitted against Clare, whereas Armagh must defeat Galway, the Connacht champions, having never got the better of the Tribesmen in three previous Championship meetings.

An All-Ulster semi-final remains a distinct possibility, though, and that would be wonderful, ensuring a northern presence in the All-Ireland Final, and a fresh element on the big stage.

The other half of the All-Ireland draw contains all the recent winners (apart from Donegal and Tyrone) since Armagh's triumph in 2002, in the form of Cork, Dublin, and Kerry. Regular finalists Mayo are there too, so there are tasty permutations, although a classic Dublin-Kerry combination is the most probable outcome for that semi-final.

The bookies are already offering prices on who will win between the Dubs and the Kingdom.

Armagh and Derry won't take their semi-final places for granted, but both are brilliant representatives for Ulster, and both will take some beating.

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Took a trip down to Newry City on Saturday to see their legends play their Liverpool FC counterparts.

The epithet was stretched to its limits by some on both sides, but my eight-year-old son was absolutely thrilled to meet, and get his shirt signed by 'a real Liverpool footballer', even one who retired from playing 15 years before he was born - John Aldridge.

'Aldo' signed for everyone who asked, and posed for pics, as did the wonderful Alan Kennedy, scorer of not one but two European Cup Final winning goals.

The occasion got me thinking that the GAA could do more for its living legends, with proper backing for Masters matches. It wouldn't just be kids wanting to meet and greet heroes of the past.

That might work better for one of our columnists, who somehow inveigled himself onto the Liverpool Legends team.

Rating?

Danny Hughes: Came on with the Reds leading 3-1 and they immediately conceded a goal. Contributed to the hosts going 4-3 up with a series of wayward passes and ill-timed challenges. Got involved in several needless, heated pushing and shoving matches: 3; actually, scratch that: 2 (I'm extremely envious of him).

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On the subject of immortality, never mind making a Euros squad, getting onto a Panini panel is an even tougher task.

Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels will still have difficult enough decisions to make in selecting his 23 players to go to England next month to face the hosts, Austria, and Norway for the women's continental competition.

However, the Panini album includes only 20 players per country.

It may be of some slight consolation to Caragh Hamilton and Megan Bell, who will both miss the tournament due to injury, that they weren't to be among those whose image will adorn stickers anyway.

The three (or more players) who do make the 23, but aren't among the Panini products, won't worry too much about that, but for those pictured, it's another nice slice of footballing history for them.

Who knows, I might even let my daughter look at my album…

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