Armagh vs Down: Winning Ulster remains Armagh’s main aim insists Rory Grugan

Armagh's Rory Grugan
Armagh's Rory Grugan -Credit:©INPHO/Leah Scholes

Amid all the debate about the value of the provincial Championships, the Anglo Celt Cup is still coveted by teams in Ulster, none more so than Armagh.

The Orchard County last lifted the Ulster title back in 2008 - their sixth victory since 2000.

Grugan himself had a kick to end their drought in last season’s Ulster final before Kieran McGeeney’s side lost out to Derry on penalties.

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Armagh are one win away from returning to the provincial decider and face Down in Saturday’s semi-final at Clones and Grugan made no secret of the fact that they’d love another crack at the provincial title.

“I don’t think there’s any point in hiding the fact that we’d love to win an Ulster title,” said Grugan, who was Man-of-the-Match in their impressive quarter-final win over Fermanagh earlier this month.

“I think that is the same for very county in Ulster. Whatever about the other provincial Championships around Ireland and the value that others place on them, you can still see what it means to people and what it means to Armagh people to try and win that.

“It was obviously an extremely disappointing way to lose the final last year with the penalties. You’ve got over the first hurdle and now we’ve the chance to play Down in a semi-final knowing that the carrot of another final and getting back to try and win is there.

“That’s where we want to be again to right that wrong. Down are thinking the same. It is there chance to get to the All-Ireland series. There is that carrot for them as well so it should make for a good game.”

This weekend’s derby clash is a repeat of last season’s semi-final at the same venue. After Conor Laverty’s side enjoyed a first round win over Donegal in Newry, there was an anticipation that the game would be a close contest. It turned out to be anything but with Armagh scoring a facile 4-10 to 0-12 victory.

Down were far from impressive in their four-point win against Antrim, but Grugan knows the Orchard County cannot take anything for granted.

“It is a repeat of last year’s game. Last year we got a couple of goals to stretch the game out whereas, before that, it was very tight and it was a wet day.

“I’d imagine Down, with another year down the line with Conor (Laverty), they will be very well set up. They are a very athletic, pacey team with a lot of threats up front.

“We all probably watched the game (against Antrim), but until you get your own job done, you aren’t really thinking about it.

“Now we’ve the job done, we can look back on it and get their work done on them.”

Grugan also revealed that the hurt of losing to Donegal in the recent Division Two final played a part in their electric start against Fermanagh as Jarly Óg Burns, Conor Turbitt and Stefan Campbell ran in first half goals to effectively end the contest before the break.

Rian O’Neill also made a return to the starting line-up and Grugan said it all bodes well as Armagh look to make their mark on the Championship campaign.

“Yeah, there was more than a wee bit (of hurt from the Donegal game) - we felt like we didn’t do ourselves justice in the game,” added the Ballymacnab clubman.

“The main objective of the League was to get promoted, but it was disappointing that we didn’t perform the way we knew we could to try and get a trophy in Croke Park.

Armagh's Stefan Campbell celebrates with Rory Grugan after scoring a goal against Fermanagh in the Ulster SFC quarter-final
Armagh's Stefan Campbell celebrates with Rory Grugan after scoring a goal against Fermanagh in the Ulster SFC quarter-final -Credit:©INPHO/John McVitty

“I think some of that frustration bore fruit in that first quarter. We had a good two weeks of training, a very positive reaction to the defeat and everyone is pushing hard.

“You can see the kind of quality we have there in terms of the depth there so we feel like we are in a good place moving forward.”

He added: “It is probably the most injury-free season we’ve had outside of a few and we hope that continues. It is obviously a long season, the games come thick and fast, so you can pick injuries up, but we believe we’ve the depth in our squad that the next man in is going to do the job.

“You see the quality of the names of the 26, not even starting - that’s a good thing for us. It means everyone is pushing hard and you can never rest on your laurels. In terms of training, our ‘A’ versus ‘B’ games are very competitive and very intense.

“That is where you want to be and as long as everyone is pushing for the team, that’s what is most important.”

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