Armagh can claim top spot says McEvoy

Armagh v Galway
Sunday, Markievicz Park, 1.45pm

By Shaun Casey

IN their last two championship meetings, Armagh and Galway have served up so much drama and excitement that this weekend’s highly-anticipated clash has already got ‘game of the season’ contender written all over it.

Extra-time, penalties, melees, goals, late winners. You name it, these last two games have had it. And the record is currently evenly split with Galway winning the All-Ireland quarter-final in 2022, while Armagh gained revenge in round three of the group stages last year.

And like 12 months ago, the prize on offer for the winner this weekend is automatic qualification to the last eight of the All-Ireland series. Whoever comes out on top this Sunday, will top the group.

Former Armagh goalkeeper Philly McEvoy believes that earning that number one spot is of huge importance and that the Orchard County will be buoyed by the recent 11-point hammering handed out to Derry.

Following their first-round win over Westmeath on home turf, Kieran McGeeney’s men were expecting a much stiffer examination of their credentials when they took on Derry in Celtic Park, but they convincingly breezed through in the end.

“Armagh will be chomping at the bit after their last performance against Derry,” said the Dromintee clubman. “It’s a performance they needed; I suppose they had to dig out a win in the Athletic Grounds against Westmeath.

“That got them back on the road after the disappointment of the Ulster final but their last performance against Derry was exactly what was needed, not only for the players but for the county as well.

“Armagh fans will back the county from one stretch of the country to the other, but we needed that wee bit of an energy boost and there’s nothing better than putting in one of the best displays I’ve seen since the mid-2000s from an Armagh team.”

He continued: “That has them in good stead going into the weekend. There’s a big prize on offer and Armagh did the business last year against the same opposition to get to the quarter-final, and on the back of the Derry performance, I fancy them doing the same again this time around.”

Likewise, Galway have chalked up two victories in the group stages having also overcome Derry and Westmeath, although Armagh currently top the group due to score difference so even a draw would do for the men in orange and white.

They won’t be thinking like that of course and given the couple of key men that Galway are likely to be without, Sunday provides a real opportunity for Armagh to put out another statement win against the Connacht champions.

Talisman and 2022 All-Star attacker Damien Comer, who didn’t play against Armagh last year either, didn’t feature against Westmeath two weeks ago along with team captain Sean Kelly and forward Rob Finnerty.

Armagh have their own injury concerns of course, with Conor O’Neill and Ciaran Mackin gone for the season while Connaire Mackin is also likely to miss out this weekend through suspension.

But as the Orchard County showed against Derry, they have enough quality in reserve to plug whatever gaps appear, with Niall Grimley and Ross McQuillan earning particular plaudits for their performance in Celtic Park.

“I haven’t played club football for a couple of years now, but Niall was the best player I would come across at club level. He could win a club match on his own,” suggested McEvoy.

“I was always looking out for him at the county level to put his mark on it and against Derry was the first time I’ve seen him really put in the performances that I know he’s capable of and he was sensational.

“But that’s what I expect from Niall Grimley going forward. And then there’s the other guys, like Ross McQuillan coming on and hitting the net. It was spoken about during the week in different corners that Armagh have a very strong squad now.”

Speaking of Armagh’s bench, McEvoy added, “Look at Oisín O’Neill coming off the bench and producing. Everyone’s contributing when they’re coming off the bench too. It’s almost as if it’s just like for like.

“There’s quality everywhere you look to start with but then at the end of the match, when there’s four or five subs made, there’s the same level of quality out on the pitch really. And that’s testament to the work that the management team has done over the time.

“But also, it’s kudos to the work that the players have done too. A lot of those players perhaps went through spells where they weren’t getting on and perhaps had doubts in their mind, but Armagh is reaping the benefit of their patience and hard work and so are the individuals themselves.”

Last meeting

2023 SFC: Armagh 0-16 Galway 1-12
LAST year’s clash between these two turned into a real classic, following on from their dramatic All-Ireland quarter-final encounter in 2022, although Armagh came out on top this time around.
Both sides were without key personnel, with Damian Comer and Rian O’Neill both sidelined and still it came down to the last kick of the day. Shane Walsh missed a late free that would have levelled things up and it was Armagh who ended up topping the group.
Armagh: E Rafferty; P Burns, C Higgins, A Forker (0-2); G McCabe, A McKay, C O’Neill; Ciaran Mackin, B Crealey; J Duffy (0-1), R Grugan (0-4, 3f), C Cumiskey: C Turbitt (0-4, 2f), A Murnin (0-3, 1m), S Campbell (0-2)
Subs: J Kieran for O’Neill (blood sub), J Burns for Cumiskey, R McQuillan for McCabe, J Kieran for Higgins, J McElroy for Duffy.

Galway: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Kelly (1-1), J Glynn: Billy Mannion, J Daly, C Heron; P Conroy, C McDaid (0-2); M Tierney (0-2), J Heaney, P Cooke (0-2); I Burke, C Sweeney, S Walsh (0-5 3f)
Subs: J Maher for Mannion, R Finnerty for Heaney, C Ó Curraoin for McDaid (blood sub), C Ó Curraoin for Kelly.

Last five meetings
2023 – Armagh 0-16 Galway 1-12 – All-Ireland SFC
2023 – Armagh 1-6 Galway 1-8 – NFL
2022 – Armagh 3-18 Galway 2-21 (2-4 penalties)– All-Ireland SFC
2018 – Armagh 1-15 Galway 1-15 – NFL
2017 – Armagh 0-12 Galway 1-12 –All-Ireland SFC

Season so far

Donegal 3-16 Armagh 1-6
Armagh 1-14 Tyrone 2-10
Armagh 2-7 Derry 0-17
Armagh 0-12 Louth 0-11
Armagh 2-16 Meath 0-10
Kildare 0-8 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 1-9 Donegal 0-12
Fermanagh 0-11 Armagh 0-15
Armagh 2-21 Cavan 0-12
Cork 2-16 Armagh 2-16
Armagh 0-15 Donegal 0-16
Fermanagh 0-9 Armagh 3-11
Armagh 0-13 Down 2-6
Armagh 0-20 Donegal 0-20 (5-6 on penalties)
Armagh 0-16 Westmeath 0-11
Derry 0-15 Armagh 3-17
Leitrim 1-17 Galway 2-18
Galway 0-13 Roscommon 2-25
Galway 0-10 Mayo 2-12
Roscommon 0-9 Galway 0-9
Tyrone 0-12 Galway 1-10
Galway 1-11 Derry 3-10
Monaghan 0-14 Galway 2-12
Galway 0-14 Dublin 0-22
Kerry 0-15 Galway 1-10
London 0-9 Galway 5-21
Sligo 0-14 Galway 1-13
Galway 0-16 Mayo 0-15
Galway 2-14 Derry 0-15
Westmeath 0-11 Galway 1-12

Top Scorers

Conor Turbitt 4-43 (24f, 1-0 pen, 2m)
Rory Grugan 2-33 (18f)
Oisin Conaty 0-25
Cillian Ó Curraoin 0-40 (25f, 1m, 1 45)
Rob Finnerty 1-36 (17f, 4m)
Shane Walsh 1-15 (7f, 1 45)

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