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Mixed emotions

18 November 2020

It was a weekend of highs and lows for both Down and Armagh. 

While Ronan Sheehan’s Mourne hurlers produced a stunning performance to battle their way past Offaly in Pairc Esler on Saturday and book their place in this weekend’s Christy Ring Cup Final at Croke Park – courtesy of inter-county hurling’s very first penalty shoot-out – the Down footballers let an eight-point half-time lead slip against Cavan on Sunday to exit the Ulster Senior Football Championship at the semi-final stage in the Athletic Grounds. 

From an Armagh perspective, following the disappointment of a crushing defeat to Donegal early on Saturday afternoon as they were denied an Ulster football final berth, the Ladies footballers lifted spirits within the county with a sensational display to oust Mayo in Parnell Park and make their way into the All-Ireland Senior Championship last four against current holders and favourites Dublin in Thurles on November 28. 

If those 24 hours over the course of last weekend showed anything, they proved how important sport can be, particularly in the context of all that has gone on in 2020 off the field of play. 

While the men’s footballers of both counties will look back at what might have been in terms of being able to battle it out for the Anglo-Celt, the joy etched on the faces of those Down hurlers and Armagh Ladies footballers at the final whistle of their respective victories proved how much it meant to have upset the odds to progress. 

Down Hurling Manager Ronan Sheehan was ecstatic at his side’s success.

“It’s the greatest victory in my time. The way we came back was absolutely mind-boggling,” he beamed after Saturday’s dramatic win. 

“But going out today we knew we had a great chance. We are as good as anybody.  I have massive faith in these lads as I’ve had some of them since they were under 14.

“We’re back at Croke Park on the hundredth anniversary of Bloody Sunday and it means a hell of a lot to us. And it’s great for people like Sean Og (McAteer) and the McCrickards, people who kept hurling alive at difficult times. 

“Next week is a massive game for us, concluded the Down boss. But all I’ll say is Down hurling is on the way back,” Sheehan added. 

“It’s fantastic.”

At the other end of the spectrum of emotion that only sport can reveal was Paddy Tally, the Down Senior football manager, who looked shellshocked as he spoke to the media following his side’s second half capitulation to Cavan in Armagh on Sunday. 

“It’s devastating,” he admitted of the 1-14 to 1-13 loss.

“From being in a really strong position at the end of the first half to losing the game by a point is very very tough.”

Asked how he planned to pick his side up after such a shocking defeat given Down’s first half dominance, he said that it wouldn’t be something they would get over too quickly. 

“It takes a bit of time,” he said.  

“The players will be devastated and it will take a bit of time for them to recover from that. It’s been a very long year. From last December to now, it’s been nearly 12 months in a long season. It’s been very short in terms of the championship and we didn’t intend for it to end the way it has today.

“The way we played for parts of that first half, I felt we were going to push on and get another game. It’ll be sore for a few days because the expectations amongst the group are higher than that. The way we lost the game will take a bit of time to recover from, but it’s a learning process. This is still a pretty young team and there are a lot of young fellas there that will be chastened by the experience, but hopefully it will stand to them in the future.”

While Tally’s men couldn’t be faulted for their effort, as it was more their confidence than anything else that evaporated on Sunday, the same couldn’t see said for Kieran McGeeney and his Armagh side after their chastening 1-22 to 0-13 hammering at the hands of Declan Bonner’s Donegal in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday. 

“Sport regrets should be about the misses - not that you didn’t even try,” said McGeeney, who emphasised that it’s not a lack of talent or ability that led to such a heavy defeat - he feels there is enough of both in his squad - but the disappointing reality was that Armagh just didn’t show up on the day - particularly in the first half.

“I suppose, from our point of view, we had a decent year, but for the first time this year I thought we were very timid and very weak and we didn’t have a go at them, standing still on the ball, and it’s really disappointing stuff. 

“It’s not what we trained to do, and it’s very hard to watch it. You don’t mind sometimes in past with the teams that didn’t have the capabilities to go at teams, but we do at the minute and that is probably the most disappointing part,” said the manager.

For our in-depth match reports, ratings and further reaction, of all four matches, see pages 39-47.

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