Last week Pundit Arena obtained footage of the recent Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final between rivals, Armagh and Tyrone.
As the game entered the dying moments, Armagh held a slender lead over their neighbour’s but the game was very much there to be won.
Tyrone had Armagh on the ropes and following a sustained period of pressure, they bore down on goal with a stream of orange jerseys in tow. It looked to be the game-clinching moment spectators had been waiting for.
As it turned out, it was the game-clinching moment but only because of Armagh goalkeeper Simon Doherty and his heroic save. The St John’s, Belfast club man somehow managed to turn a point-blank shot around the post as Armagh held on to win by two and book a record seventh Nicky Rackard Cup final appearance.
Two points up in the dying minutes of the game. Under serious pressure and a Nicky Rackard Cup final at stake when your No.1 pulls this out of the bag! 😮
That's what goalkeepers are for! What a save! 👌👏🔥
— Pundit Arena (@PunditArena) June 11, 2019
Pundit Arena caught up with the ten-year inter-county veteran as he prepares for his sixth Croke Park visit with the Armagh senior hurlers and when pressed on that save and how it helped his team qualify for the final, Doherty was modest in his assessment that he was just doing his job.
“It might sound a little bit silly but my thought process was to just, keep an eye on it the whole time,” Doherty said.
“Keep focused, keep concentrating. I was only doing my job you know. It looks well on video, yes, but the reality is that I’m just doing my job.
“Defenders are clearing the ball out, forwards are trying to put the ball over the bar and I’m just doing my job as well. Thankfully I was able to block the ball and you know, we got the result in the end. I was just delighted to be called upon at such a late stage in the game.”
While video evidence of his heroics may have brought Simon Doherty into the public eye ahead of the final, he made headlines late last year when he was given the unimaginable task of managing against his current team when his Ulster University side was drawn in the same group as Armagh in the Conor McGurk Cup.
There were no split loyalties on the day as Doherty openly admitted he had his UU hat on and he managed to come out on the right side of a result. Some of those men he managed will be in Croke Park themselves on Saturday representing Down in the Christy Ring final, a truly unique feat for Doherty.
“It certainly was a strange feeling going into battle against your own in the Conor McGurk Cup tournament which is a brilliant competition that involves both the college and inter-county teams in Ulster.
“You know, the college teams were at a different phase and a different stage of their preparation whereas the county teams were only just getting ready for the National League.
“It was a great year for me in my own personal learning, stepping into management with Ulster University. It’s something I would be looking to push on and further in the next number of years.
“And it’s great to see a lot of those players I managed with Ulster University now representing their county teams. Some of them are actually on the Down squad this weekend. Mark Fisher, who was our captain, Oisin McManus, Paddy Brannigan and Daithi Sands so I think it’s great that those guys have had such a successful year both with college and with their county teams. So, I would like to wish them all the best on Saturday.”
You’d have to mad to be a goalkeeper but clearly, it’s in Doherty’s blood as his father was a Tyrone netminder back in the 1960s.
Doherty has carried on that mantle and in ten years with Armagh he has amassed two Nicky Rackard winners medals in 2010 & 2012 respectively. At just 26, there are a few more years left it the tank but had you have told that young man sitting in the stands at the 2002 All-Ireland hurling final that one day he would get to run out onto that pitch like his hero, Davy Fitzgerald, he openly admits he wouldn’t have believed you.
“My dad actually played in goals for Tyrone when he was younger. Way back in the late 1960s he would have played in goals for Tyrone.
“But you know, growing up Davy Fitz was a hero of mine. I remember going to watch my first All-Ireland final, I was very lucky to be there, it was 2002 and Clare were playing Kilkenny and I had watched Clare that whole season and Davy Fitz was my hero jumping around the goals.
“It was probably a little bit erratic and crazy but it hit a note with me and I thought if I can perform like him and be as brave as him someday I might get to play in Croke Park as well and I’ve been very, very fortunate throughout my career to be there six times with Armagh which is just incredible.
“If you were to tell me that 15 years ago I wouldn’t have believed you so I’ve been very fortunate and this group has been fortunate but it’s been through hard work over the last number of years. It would be lovely to finish off with a victory on Saturday.”
It’ll be tough for Armagh in Croke Park. Since their last victory in 2012, they’ve lost three Nicky Rackard finals while Sligo hurling is currently riding the crest of a wave having won the Lory Meagher Cup last season.
The tell-tale signs would point towards an Armagh side who are under pressure this year and while Doherty admits they are under no illusions about the threat that Sligo pose, he doesn’t view pressure the way others might.
“We’re under no illusion of the task that lies ahead of us this Saturday because Sligo played Tyrone in the Nicky Rackard second round and beat them. We very much appreciate the quality that Sligo have.
“They are in a similar position to ourselves in that they are unbeaten in the competition and they deserve to be in the final because they’ve racked up some fantastic scores and from talking to a few friends who played against them with Warwickshire, they said the speed and intensity they played with in their semi-final was something they hadn’t faced before.
“I don’t think it adds pressure because, for me, you might laugh at this but my view on pressure is that it is actually sort of a perceived thing, it doesn’t actually exist. I think that it’s very much a new group. The team that got to three finals in a row under Sylvester McConnell, a number of those guys have moved on after having brilliant careers with Armagh.
“There are a number still there, the McGuinness brothers, Ciaran Clifford, Nathan Curry, Paul Gaffney but it’s a nice blend with the younger guys, the likes of Danny Magee from the Sean Treacy’s club in Lurgan who has been exceptional all year and has really become a mainstay in the forward line.
“I’m very fortunate, I was part of two winning Nicky Rackard sides but there a number of guys who unfortunately haven’t tasted that success so there’s no lack of hunger or motivation in this group.”