Armagh aim to make up for missed Super 8s opportunity

After missing out on a place in last year’s inaugual Super 8s and promotion to Division One in the spring, Armagh were patted on the head and told they’d dodged a bullet.

They weren’t ready for the big time, so it was for the best.

But try telling that to the Armagh players.

“If you asked any inter-county player would they rather progress or stay where they are... I mean everyone is competitive,” says captain Rory Grugan.

“It might have been in hindsight that we would have struggled to stay in Division One next year, but how else are you going to test yourself?

“It was the same last year. We were told we were better off not getting to the Super 8s when you saw how Roscommon did, but you wouldn’t get many players subscribing to that notion.”

Armagh lost a memorable high-scoring shoot-out to Roscommon in Portlaoise, but the hard luck stories were hard for Grugan to digest.

“The neutrals really enjoyed that game but there’s not much consolation for the gallant losers so I’d rather have been on the right side of the result.

I would rather pit myself against the best and see where you fit because ultimately everyone wants to play at the top level.

“The Super 8s would have been a really good stepping stone for us, and looking to this year it’s something we would love to experience.”

Grugan teaches in St Fanchea’s College in Enniskillen so being around home most of the time means he gets to hear very quickly what the fans are thinking, and he believes manager Kieran McGeeney gets an unfair rap occasionally.

Now he’s in his fifth year as manager, he is waiting for a first win in the Ulster SFC — and Sunday’s clash with Down in Newry represents a great chance to break his duck.

I guess that people are saying ‘well the potential is there but they just aren’t delivering on it’ so for us it’s about getting that monkey off our back

“It’s there now, the record. There’s nothing we can do about it except try and win this one and it’s a big motivation, that’s only natural.

“For me as a player, for that to be associated with you and your team it’s hard to get past.

“Stemming from that you have Kieran as this iconic player for Armagh and someone we look up to so much as players, and have so much respect for him.”

Armagh were one of the teams punished for going on an overseas training camp last year.

They also went to Portugal this year between league and championship, having got permission from Croke Park, but the GAA are vetoing all pre-championship foreign trips from 2020.

When they lost to Fermanagh in the first round last year, Armagh’s professional preparations became a talking point — but Grugan has no regrets about the squad trying to be the best that they can be.

“I don’t get the motivation behind that (rule change). If counties are making sure all their club fixtures are being played, then it’s hard to see the motivation behind it. It’s a bit frustrating, but it’s there now.

“You’re training the way you’d be training at home, sure enough there’s a bit of media scrutiny because you’re away — but you’re trying to win a game in the championship.

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