It’s incredible how the entire gamut of emotions from just one match can shred your nervous system and heap such pressure on your vital organs - and that’s just as a spectator. I can’t imagine how the players must have felt but by the time the match went to penalties, the life had effectively drained out of me.
I was mentally exhausted anyway but the atmosphere in the ground suddenly almost felt abnormal. It felt like the air had been sucked out of the place. How do you feel? What are you supposed to feel? Despite the chaos on the field, players are invariably more at ease than supporters because they have some control over what’s happening. But there’s no software anywhere that could have firewalled that attack on everyone’s nervous system yesterday.
This is such a new and sudden experience for us as GAA people that we don’t know how or what to feel. Galway will obviously have a completely different take on the outcome but, deep down, I’m not sure if they’ll fully agree either. It’s a horrible way to lose a game, but despite the perception, it’s not a great way to win a match either. Padraic Joyce said as much afterwards.
Maybe it was because everyone had been so enthralled and unsure about the outcome for the previous 35-40 minutes that the mood is inevitably going to hit a low. There was a general deflation everywhere because everyone in the ground knows for sure now that one team is going out of the championship in the most horrible way imaginable.
I understand the GAA’s reasoning for introducing penalties this year in their attempts to finish the championship early, but yesterday will surely have forced a revision. I won’t say I really had an opinion on the whole concept but I do now. And it’s not contaminated by Armagh losing. Even if we had won, I’d have felt the same way. Penalties just doesn’t feel right.
On the otherhand, it was hard to know what to think when all senses and emotions had been scrambled so violently. I was all over the place by the time Armagh suddenly had the opportunity to take the match to extra-time.
The off-pitch camera caught me beautifully after my nephew Rian O’Neill slotted that late equaliser. Being totally honest, I expected him to nail it. I’ve seen Rian score those frees from further out, and in worse conditions. Naturally, when the ball sailed over the bar, I couldn’t contain myself.
The relief I felt though, was centred on far more than just getting to extra time. If we hadn’t got those two late goals, we would have felt the day was a let-down for more than just the result - it looked like being another disappointing day when expectation was never as high.
But the way in which we hunted Galway down completely changed the mood amongst all the Armagh supporters. We had fully earned the right to show everyone what the fuss had really been all about. And it infused everyone from Armagh with so much pride.
Of course we’ll have massive regrets. I felt the biggest mistake we made all afternoon was the decision to back off the Galway kickout after Jamar Hall had put us one point up heading into injury-time in extra-time.
Conor Gleeson the Galway keeper had his confidence seriously rattled from the three goals and Armagh should have asked him far more serious questions than getting off a handy short kickout, which enabled Galway to work the ball to Cillian McDaid for a brilliant equaliser.
McDaid was outstanding but Armagh had such a focus on trying to contain Shane Walsh that it opened up opportunities for McDaid, Rob Finnerty and Matthew Tierney and they really hurt us. Defensively, I felt Armagh could have been better, but that was partly down to just running out bodies from four significant injuries and a sending off, followed by a second sending off.
Unfortunately, such a brilliant game will naturally be dominated by the discussion of the brawl at the end of normal time, which was disgusting and disgraceful.
I got blitzed with messages afterwards saying that it wasn’t a coincidence that Armagh have now been involved in desperate rows against Tyrone, Donegal and now Galway. It reminded me of that old saying where if you have a name for getting up early, you can stay in bed all day.
Yesterday certainly didn’t do Armagh’s reputation any favours. There were two teams involved but I’ll never skirt around these issues and the scenes were ugly and a black mark on such a brilliant occasion. I expect to see lengthy suspensions when the video evidence is examined.
The GAA needs to do something about this kind of stuff and, for me, the solution is pretty obvious. Put one team in the Cusack Stand dressing-rooms, and the other in Hogan. For both matches. That would remove the potential for anarchy when both teams are going in one tunnel together.
McDaid said in his post-match interview that the players were really calm and composed in the dressingroom after the chaos and I thought Galway showed a new maturity about this group. I always felt there was a soft centre to Galway but yesterday certainly altered that perception.
The games they have lost over the years have helped in their long-term development and I see a team now with huge athleticism and class, and with a much harder edge. Their tackling is better. Their defensive shape has improved. More importantly, I never felt that Galway were running out of bodies like Armagh were. The players they brought on made a real difference. And this game will have brought them on a tonne.
The mood in Armagh today is at the opposite end of the spectrum but Kieran McGeeney has built something serious now that is sustainable. Armagh have about 45-50 senior players in their system. There is a solid pathway there from the U-20 set-up. There is continuity now that wasn’t always there under McGeeney.
For now, the journey is over. But yesterday just re-confirmed that Armagh are at least on the right road.