Armagh out to banish their demons

FORMER footballer of the year, Steven McDonnell wants to use Sunday's Croke Park National League semi final to exorcise the memories of his last visit to headquarters.

The Armagh ace warmed up for the clash with Mayo by inking a deal yesterday with ten other GAA stars to wear customised adidas boots for the Championships.

And ahead of Sunday's clash, he revealed how long it has taken to get last August's defeat to Fermanagh out of their system.

"It was hard to know what they (GAC) were going to do because we weren't sure if the pitch would be ready or not," he explained. "It's great to get the chance to play in Croke Park before the championship. The last game I played here we lost, so we'll want to put things right."

He admitted that while they felt that Joe Kernan's appeal to move the game from Hyde Park would not have been turned down after the ground-breaking decision by Congress to open up the stadium to rugby and soccer, there still had been an initial doubt about the venue.

Mayo forward Conor Mortimer, another contracted to adidas, also welcomed the decision to play the game in Croke Park. "It's great, better than playing in Roscommon at this time of the year," he said.

And, he echoed the same sentiment as McDonnnell in relation to the venue. "We had a few games in Croke Park last year and we're all hoping that we can have a few more there this season. We face a physically tough week of training and we know that it's going to be very hard to defeat Armagh. They're a very good side, as they have shown in the League.

McDonnell, whose adidas boots will be inscribed 'Ard Mhaca 13,' with the Armagh crest on the heel, pointed out that while they have won their last six games, they won a few 'by the skin of their teeth.' "On the other hand, it has been our most consistent campaign of the last few years. It's all about qualifying, no matter how you get there," he added.

"Definitely, if we can get a win on Sunday it would be a huge boost for the championship. We will be playing Fermanagh (in the preliminary round) on May 15 and they are the team which knocked us out last year here (in Croke Park). That's going to be a tough battle and then after that on the same side of the draw you have Donegal and Derry.

"Our aim is to win on Sunday, regardless of what people think. We want a National League title as much as anybody else. We have never won the competition and hopefully this will be our year. Mayo have the same incentive of getting back on the winning track in Croke Park. If you look at their record over the years, they have played their best football in semi-finals. Kieran McDonald can 'spray' passes better than anyone else in the country and they have forwards capable of winning any game."

He emphasised the importance of having the Crossmaglen contingent back (after their club championship involvement), describing them as 'central figures.' "When you look at the likes of Oisin McConville, John McEntee and Francie Bellew, they're players you can't be without."

The adidas deal marks the first formal partnership with leading GAA players, who now join other top names in Irish sport such Brian O'Driscoll, Damien Duff and Caitriona McKiernan. Paul Moloney, Senior Sports Marketing Manager of adidas Ireland pointed out that it marked an extension of long-standing relationships they have had with the GAA, at individual and county board level, including Kerry.

"The GAA may operate under amateur rules, but we know there is nothing amateur about the dedication, talent and the skill of our Gaelic players. Hurling and Gaelic football are home to some of the most outstanding athletes in our country and we see the GAA as a key focus of our marketing activities. It's our intention to build a long-term relationship with the best players and we believe we have the best product to do that."

He explained that working with their PR company (WHPR) they looked at players on a regional basis and chose key players in the 'key' counties.

Apart from Kieran McDonald, the ten players who have agreed boot sponsorship deals were all present in Croke Park yesterday. Interestingly, two of them - Kerry's Paul Galvin and Galway's Michael Meehan - opted to have no inscription on their boots. Five others, apart from Mortimer, will have personal inscriptions, Sean Og O hAilpin (Sean Og), Ken McGrath (K.McG), Mattie Forde (M Forde 15), Eoin Kelly (E Kelly), J.J. Delaney (do) and Kieran McDonald (KMcD). Alan Brogan will have 'BAC' on his boot.

Under the agreement, the players will wear their personalised Predator Pulse boots for the rest of the year.

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