2002 All-Ireland winner Stevie McDonnell talks about Armagh gaining promotion to Division One for 2021, their form against Derry, and the size of the task against Donegal in the Ulster SFC.
BY GERARD BROWNE
Stevie McDonnell believes it’s time Armagh were back challenging for Ulster honours.
The Orchard County were last Ulster champions in 2008 and they have not contested a final since.
For this season to be classified as a successful one, McDonnell believes they need to get their hands on the Anglo-Celt Cup again.
“I think it’s time Armagh stepped up and are back challenging for provincial titles again. It’s been 12 years in the doldrums and since they were last in an Ulster final,” the three-time All Star says.
“For me getting to an Ulster final and winning it would be a successful season.”
Armagh started their championship campaign with a 0-17 to 0-15 win over Derry in the Ulster championship quarter-final last Sunday.
The Killeavy club man was satisfied with how they saw the game out in difficult conditions at Celtic Park.
“They managed the game well. Any time Derry got within one or two points; they found a way to get a score. They always maintained the lead,” comments McDonnell.
“Going to Celtic Park is never an easy task. To score 17 points given the weather was also very impressive.”
The O’Neill brothers, Oisin and Rian, both played a big part in the victory, scoring 0-6 between them.
However, it was there fellow Crossmaglen clubmate Jamie Clarke that stood out for McDonnell.
“I thought it was Jamie’s best performance in the last year or so. He was a bit rusty in the last two league games,” he adds.
“He played a more playmaking type of game. I think it suits Jamie. He has that creative spark and vision to bring other players into the game.”
Armagh defence often gets criticised but they kept some of Derry’s key forwards quiet, with Ryan Kennedy holding Shane McGuigan scoreless from play.
McDonnell still identifies areas for improvement, stating: “The big concern for me is they concede too many scorable frees.
“They have good defenders. It’s just a case of brushing up on their tackling and keeping the opponents further away from the goals”.
Next up for Kieran McGeeney’s charge is a meeting with Donegal in the Ulster semi-final on Saturday week.
Declan Bonner’s side edged out Tyrone 1-13 to 1-11 in a bruising encounter in their championship opener last weekend.
The 2002 All-Ireland winner sees similarities with this Donegal team to that Armagh side of 18 years ago.
“They remind me of the Armagh team I played with,” continues McDonnell.
“We didn’t seem to panic. We just continued to play our game, at our tempo.
“That’s what Donegal did against a very good Tyrone team. There wasn’t even a cause for concern when Tyrone got their goal”.
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