Three All-Irelands in five years. Five All-Ireland final appearances. A glut of All Stars. Numerous stone cold legends of the game. The biggest folk hero in recent memory. Numerous provincial titles. This is the legacy of Armagh and Galway since the turn of the millennium.
Two of the dominant teams of the period, both were well-liked by many neutrals. Both were seen, at least initially, as being entertaining and exciting teams. Both were successful. Both sides clashed in a 2001 qualifier match. Galway were mere months form winning their second All-Ireland in four years, Armagh a little over a year form winning their first ever.
Where did it all go wrong? Both counties won their last provincial title in 2008. Both have been on the end of some shocking results since. Galway have been knocked out of the qualifiers by counties such as Westmeath, Wexford and Antrim. No disrespect to those counties, but Galway football people would expect to beat those teams, even at their worst moments.
In fairness to Galway, they have been robbed of their potential talisman in Michael Meehan. There aren’t too many footballers in recent memory with such talent who’ve suffered so much through injury. His performance against Kerry in the 2008 quarter-final against Kerry, a ten-point tour de force with six (six!) from play on a rotten day in a forgotten gem of a match, showed what a special player he is.
Galway have been, and still are, in a deep search for a spine, both on the field and metaphorically. On the field, the Tribesmen are in a decade-long search for men to fill the 3, 6, 8 and 9 jerseys. Particularly against Mayo, Galway have been eaten alive around the centre of the field, and so open down the middle of their defence that teams have just waltzed down there at will.
On a more psychological level, Galway’s record in close games and in qualifiers for the same decade is awful. Any Galway man would have to admit, no matter how proud they are, that Galway in recent years seem to fold when the pressure is put on. The list of one-point losses in the last ten years is staggering:
- 2006 vs Westmeath
- 2007 vs Sligo
- 2009 vs Mayo
- 2009 vs Donegal
- 2010 vs Sligo
- 2010 vs Wexford
- 2011 vs Meath
- 2012 vs Antrim
- 2013 vs Cork
That is a staggering level of futility. What’s to be done about it? Honestly, this writer has no idea. Every study of high scoring sports tells us that one score results even themselves out over a period of time. This is a statistical anomaly that would leave Billy Beane’s head spinning.
One doesn’t like to label a group as chokers, but there is obviously a lack of confidence, or a leadership deficit, or a curse placed on the county by someone who lost their life’s savings in Ballybrit. At this stage it’s as likely a reason as any.
Armagh too have fallen badly. They too can point to a lost talisman in Rónán Clarke. Another player of immense talent whose career was destroyed by injury. Armagh’s malaise is more mundane than Galway’s possible curse of the horse fancier.
Similar to their great rivals of this millennium, Tyrone, as a golden generation left the players coming up behind simply have not been as good. Certainly, they’ve produced outstanding talents such as Jamie Clarke, but not enough of them. The performance against Donegal proved this.
Admittedly Donegal are one of the very best teams in the country and able to destroy most opposition at will, but in the first half they toyed with Armagh. From Donegal’s half back line out they annihilated the Orchard men, to the point where Armagh players looked lost, and one couldn’t blame them for being.
They had no answer to the onslaught, and were exposed as lacking the artillery to fight back against the barrage of attacks. Armagh racked up a respectable score of 2-17 against Wicklow, but the Garden men have not been tight at the back all year, so it’s hard to know how true an indicator that is.
Looking forward to Saturday, it’s quite a tough game to call. Galway finished the League mid-table in Division Two and Armagh won Division Three, so it can be assumed that their league form was relatively similar.
Both have suffered tough beatings by All-Ireland contenders. If Armagh can supply quick, precise ball into their inside forwards, as Mayo did in the Connacht semi-final, one would wonder if Galway have the markers inside to cope.
Kieran McGeeney knows his way around the qualifiers from his Armagh days, and you’d have to bank on him adopting an uber-defensive set-up to lock the game down. If the match is tight down the stretch, on all recent evidence you’d have to take it that Galway will crack. So, I’m calling it for Armagh in a tight match.
Danny Ryan, Pundit Arena