In the first of a series of articles examining the major underachievers of the GAA world, Killian Healy takes a look back at the Armagh teams between 2000-2008.
Armagh achievements from 2000-2008
– Won All-Ireland at U21 level in 2004
– Won the NFL in 2005
– Won 2 Ulster U21 Championships, 2004 & 2007
– Won 6 Ulster titles between 2000 and 2008
– Won an Ulster minor in 2005
The Armagh teams that lined out in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship between 2000-2008 possessed an abundance of talent. They had some of the classiest forwards in the game such as Oisin McConville and Stevie McDonnell. Their defence was rock solid with Francie Bellew at full back and Kieran “Geezer” McGeeney at centre back.
One thing is for sure, it was a crime that they only won 1 All Ireland Senior Football Championship in what was supposedly a ‘golden era’ for Armagh football.
Let’s examine the achievements of Armagh throughout the 2000s. They were quite successful at underage level, winning the Ulster Minor title in 2005, the Ulster U21 Title in 2004 & 2007 and an All Ireland at U21 level in 2004.
They also won an impressive Ulster & All Ireland double at Minor level in 2009, but we cannot really link any of those players to the Armagh Senior teams of 2000-2008. Not many other counties can boast the achievements that this county earned at underage level during the noughties.
Armagh and Tyrone dominated the Ulster Championship throughout the 2000s, with Armagh edging that rivalry; winning the Anglo-Celt Cup on 6 occasions, as opposed to Tyrone’s four victories.
2003 was a case of what might have been for Armagh, beaten by three points by their arch rivals Tyrone in the All Ireland Final. Had it not been for that inspirational Conor Gormley block could things have ended very differently? There’s a strong possibility. Ultimately, Armagh will see this as one that slipped from their grasp.
The Armagh faithful would class 2004 as a major disappointment, crashing out in the All Ireland Quarter Final suffering defeat at the hands of surprise package Fermanagh.
2005 saw normality resume for this Armagh side, reaching the All Ireland Semi Final. However, they once again failed to fulfil their potential, losing out by a solitary point to Tyrone, who went on to lift the coveted Sam Maguire Cup that September.
In 2006 Armagh suffered a seven-point defeat to Kerry; one they were certainly not expecting. This Kerry team went on to win the All Ireland with relative ease, beating Cork by six in the Semi Final and decimating Mayo in the Final.
Armagh could certainly have defeated Cork and Mayo had they emerged victorious from their clash with Kerry. Another All Ireland that got away? Undoubtedly.
2007 was definitely a year to forget for Armagh. They crashed out of Ulster in their first game, losing to Donegal by a point after a crushing late goal.
That summer saw Armagh exit the championship at the earliest possible stage for the first time in many years. They suffered a first round qualifier defeat to Derry in Clones. With the talent that Armagh had at their disposal this 2007 side was the definition of underachievers.
In 2008 we saw a completely different side than we witnessed in 2007. They added another Ulster Title to their collection, defeating Fermanagh with relative ease in the final. However, 2008 was ultimately another year of underachievement for Armagh, suffering an embarrassing five-point defeat at the hands of Wexford in the All Ireland Quarter Final.
Tyrone went on to win the All Ireland in 2008, beating Wexford and Kerry in the Semi Final and Final respectively. Many Armagh fans will feel that 2008 was “the one that got away”.
Could Armagh have beaten Tyrone that year? Yes.
Should Armagh have won an All Ireland that year ?Absolutely.
Unfortunately, 2008 was another year of underachievement for this hugely talented group.
The county of Armagh certainly saw a golden era between the years of 2000 and 2008. They were in possession of some of the most naturally gifted players in the country. Armagh dominated Ulster football during the years in which the Ulster Championship was lauded as the strongest provincial championship in Gaelic Football.
It was a shame to see the great Aaron Kernan retire last year without an All Ireland Senior Football medal to his name. Players such as Oisin McConville, Kieran McGeeney and Stevie McDonnell certainly deserved more All Ireland victories.
Taking everything into account, the bottom line is that this Armagh team underachieved, and did so massively.
Killian Healy, Pundit Arena.