Hurling & Camogie

Armagh boss cries foul over Donegal conceding relegation playoff

Armagh hurling manager Sylvester McConnell. Picture by Colm O'Reilly
Armagh hurling manager Sylvester McConnell. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

SYLVESTER McConnell has questioned whether Ulster Council will punish Donegal for failing to field in last weekend’s Ulster Senior Hurling Championship relegation play-off.

The Armagh hurling boss was clearly angered by their opening Nicky Rackard Cup opponents’ decision not to turn out against Down for their scheduled game on Sunday.

The Tír Chonaill men instead went on a weekend training camp and took their relegation to the Ulster Shield next year as a consequence.

But it does leave Donegal with 14 days’ rest between their Ulster semi-final defeat by Antrim and Saturday’s clash with Armagh in Letterkenny, for which the Orchardmen will have had just six days’ recovery.

While Ulster Council did not comment on a potential punishment, it’s understood that provincial officials were seething at Donegal’s decision not to fulfil the fixture.

The provincial body felt prior to the turn of the year that Donegal were not ready to step up to the senior Championship, but their hand was forced by lobbying from the Tír Chonaill county board on behalf of the team.

Armagh boss McConnell had spoken about seeking the postponement of their Ulster final, in which they lost by 22 points to Antrim, but says his side were always going to play the game regardless.

“Ulster Council fixed the fixture. They knew we were playing in the Nicky Rackard.

“If they’d felt us progressing in the Nicky Rackard and maybe getting to the Christy Ring was going to help Ulster hurling, they’d have been coming to me and asking if the game should be off or on. They’re not going to change for Armagh.

“I’m not Al Qaeda, I can’t threaten them. Antrim felt it was a stepping-stone, they weren’t interested in changing it.

“The Nicky Rackard is our championship and we felt going into it, we were better with it [the Antrim game] off.

“Look what Donegal did, they went away for a training weekend, wouldn’t even play Down. Donegal are probably getting more money pumped into them than Armagh is. Who’s right and who’s wrong?

“We’re trying to make the progress through the Nicky Rackard by winning the division, by playing in Ulster finals. We’re not going to turn around and say we don’t want to play in an Ulster final.

“No one from the county board in Armagh came to me and said ‘Sylvester, are you looking that game off?’ No one from Ulster Council came to me and said ‘are you looking that game off?’

“It’s not up to me to hunt down and try and make progress if Armagh county board and Ulster Council aren’t interested in trying to make progress.

“What happens to Donegal now after they went away for a training weekend and didn’t even play Down? What message does that send out?”

McConnell hopes to have forward Eoin McGuinness available to play some part in Saturday’s tie but doesn’t expect any of his other injured stars to make it in time.

Armagh have lost the last two Nicky Rackard finals, having been beaten by Roscommon two years ago before losing to Mayo last summer.

The presence of Derry in the competition this year is expected to represent a significant hurdle should Armagh advance to the latter stages, and McConnell feels that Armagh need to achieve Christy Ring status if they are to further their progression.

“We have to dig deep, and we will. Six days has left us in a tricky position. The Nicky Rackard’s very important for us. For us to make progress, we have to get out of the Nicky Rackard.

“We’ve been in the final this two years and those big games have helped us grow. We want to be out of a final, in the Christy Ring.

“That team held its own in a higher league with Christy Ring teams, so that’s where they need to be.

“It was good to get to another Ulster final, it was good progress and Antrim were sharp, but we need to be winning our Nicky Rackard. Donegal’s a big, big game for us and we hope to come out of there.”