JACK MADDEN: One apple doesn’t make an orchard

By Jack Madden

THE early morning rush has been slightly different this past two Mondays, not so mundane. When it gets to the stage when the kids are making their own lunch, usually a window of chit-chat opens for any unoccupied hands and mouths, before everyone goes their separate ways.

On Monday gone by, there was hardly even a “good morning”. The younger generations these days are somewhat allergic to the ways of old. Newspapers have got the chop, and radios and TV are next in the firing line.

But on Monday morning, RTÉ Radio 1 was transmitted through AirPods and iPhones as well as stereos. Silence. Anticipation. Elongated anticipation actually, as the traffic updates of mere seconds seem to rumble on like a bad mass.

Kerry first up, and a 50:50 chance of the nightmare draw. A cheer goes up. Next up, top seeds Armagh, followed soon by another cheer. A rather raspy one, with half the voice left stranded somewhere opposite the stand side in O’Connor Park Tullamore.

Some day, many years from now, you like to think you’ll be back there on a hapless adventure to rediscover it. A fruitless quest, one which you have fully accepted you’re bound to fail before you even take off, but you embark regardless to recapture a fragment of your memory, and a segment of history.

Future generations in your company will too roll their eyes, just as you once did, as you recall the tale of June 24 and say: “I was there.”

A bridge appears between the MFC finals of 1939 and 2023, and a trip to Croke Park for the seniors to face the auld enemy. It’s been a good week I suppose….

Ironically similar cheers probably awoke any morning snoozers across the enemy lines. The same logic, polar opposite intention. Here there isn’t any no man’s land, be it Clontibret to Derrynoose, ‘Blayney to Cross’, or Monaghan town to Armagh City. Hatred is the only word as far as football is concerned.

One apple may keep the doctor away, but it doesn’t make an orchard. The penalty shootout defeat to Galway at this stage last year still stung for Armagh. They would have been nearly as glad as Mayo to see Pádraic Joyce’s men fall on their own patch.

And now the poor, negative, tactically inept Armagh we’ve been hearing about all year are in a better position than they ever were in 2022. If the early league wins were blown out of proportion last year, so too were the luckless defeats to Tyrone and Derry. The former saw them relegated, and the latter dejected and distraught.

And yet, the tide seems to have turned. Andy Farrell’s Irish rugby team is obsessed with the word “adversity”. What is the worst possible thing that can happen to us? What if the nightmare scenario unfolds and intertwines with reality?

And then, when nothing else can go wrong, how do we win this thing? Because we know that we can. We can’t stoop lower than rock bottom. So let’s accept this first, and then do something about it.

This Championship alone has seen Armagh face incredible adversity, and regardless of whether that was through their own doing or not, that stands to a team. A one-point victory over Westmeath seemed almost calamitous. Tyrone showed that it probably wasn’t.

It’s easy to forget now how badly fellow top seeds Derry, Kerry, and Dublin struggled off the back of provincial finals also, against Monaghan, Mayo, and Roscommon respectively. Now it is Vinny Corey’s side who face the challenge of refocusing with a tighter window of recovery.

The defeat to the Red Hands was similarly character building if nothing else. Their talisman Rian O’Neill sent off early doors, Kieran McGeeney’s side the better team, only a kick of the ball between the sides.

But a defeat, and increased emphasis on beating Galway. Perhaps that’s exactly what they needed. Their status as underdogs was just another factor in the story that Armagh were being written off, nothing has gone our way etc. Their request for Croke Park was also declined.

Their traditional image, rightly or wrongly, tends to mean they get less sympathy than most. Cue a siege mentality, triumph in adversity, all the rest of it.

The scenes in County Leitrim spoke for themselves. A manipulation of frustration, bottled up until the cork was popped, and the champagne football flowed in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada.

The naysayers then declared that the old Armagh were back. This weekend we will find out.

This time it is a different kind of pressure. Last summer when Croke Park fizzed with orange, it was sentimental. It was new and it was exciting. It ultimately ended in unimaginable heartbreak after a Galway collapse and an eternal O’Neill score (which remains better than Sean O’Shea’s).

But Monaghan know Croke Park. The Ulster final in 2021 was their last outing at HQ, but far from their only in recent memory. Although the likes of Karl Gallagher, Ryan O’Toole, and Gary Mohan have since become established starters, eight panellists from last weekend featured in the 2014 Division 2 league final win over Donegal.

The two years that have passed since that provincial decider is a barren spell really given the annual Jones’ Road trips fans have become accustomed to in the last decade. But there are two facets to that experience.

If Antrim made playing three weeks on the trot look like a breeze, Laois did anything but. Given the elder statesmen in Monaghan’s starting XV, you would imagine that is bound to hamper them, particularly on a bigger pitch.

Then again, they do love an underdogs’ tag, and this is a derby match. You’d reluctantly have to give Armagh the edge, but don’t take anything for granted. The Orchard men might even face a dreaded penalty shootout for the third time in 12 months.

A Monaghan win would be momentous, an Armagh loss would be disastrous.

Verdict: Armagh

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