Steven McDonnell: Getting the match-ups rights and impact from the bench is key to potential Armagh win

Kerry's David Clifford and Armagh's Conor TurbittKerry's David Clifford and Armagh's Conor Turbitt
Kerry's David Clifford and Armagh's Conor Turbitt
​All-Ireland SFC Semi-final. Saturday July 13 (5.30pm) at Croke Park: Armagh v Kerry

Armagh legend Steven McDonnell spoke to the Newry Reporter ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland semi-final clash against Kerry, and he says that getting the match-ups spot on and impact from the substitutes bench will be key for Armagh if they are to get the win.

As for how things have gone so far for Kieran McGeeney’s men this season, McDonnell says that there is ‘probably more in them’ but he praised the calmness and composure they have shown of late.

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“When you're sitting in a semi-final, you have done something right,” he said.

Armagh legend Steven McDonnell. Pic: Mark Pearce / Press EyeArmagh legend Steven McDonnell. Pic: Mark Pearce / Press Eye
Armagh legend Steven McDonnell. Pic: Mark Pearce / Press Eye

“They're a very difficult team to play against and they're very difficult to beat. I think they have proven that over the last couple of years.

“The performance against Derry was their stand-out performance of the Championship. Against Galway they managed to pull it back and gain a draw, and against Roscommon I think they played with a calmness.

“Even though there is probably more in them from a performance perspective, they are playing with a calmness which suits them and they are getting a lot from their bench which is an added bonus.”

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In the quarter-final, Armagh didn’t reach their full potential in their 2-12 to 0-12 win against Roscommon, but McDonnell says the key thing was that they got over the line, having fallen at the last eight stage in both 2022 and 2023.

Armagh's Conor Turbitt celebrates his second half goal against Roscommon in the All-Ireland Quarter-final. Pic: Brendan MonaghanArmagh's Conor Turbitt celebrates his second half goal against Roscommon in the All-Ireland Quarter-final. Pic: Brendan Monaghan
Armagh's Conor Turbitt celebrates his second half goal against Roscommon in the All-Ireland Quarter-final. Pic: Brendan Monaghan

“Quarter-finals are all about winning; even in my time of playing in quarter-finals 20 years ago, we never blew any team away. It was about seeing the game through and making your way towards a semi-final.

“That was the key thing for that group of players last weekend, win the match by any means and they did that. It was a hard-working performance, but I think that there is a lot more in them, and they know that as well.

“But they did what they needed to do, and it was important to see it through.”

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Looking ahead to Saturday, McDonnell says that he believes Armagh’s squad depth could prove to be decisive if they are to win.

Players like Aidan Nugent may come off the bench to make the difference for Armagh on Saturday feels Steven McDonnell. Pic: John MerryPlayers like Aidan Nugent may come off the bench to make the difference for Armagh on Saturday feels Steven McDonnell. Pic: John Merry
Players like Aidan Nugent may come off the bench to make the difference for Armagh on Saturday feels Steven McDonnell. Pic: John Merry

“We have serious firepower off the bench,” said the former Orchard County captain.

“Stefan Campbell, Oisin O'Neill, Aidan Nugent... Ross McQuillan is another one, Jason Duffy too. Boys that would be starters for a lot of county teams.

“Sometimes we ask 'Why is Aidan Nugent not starting? Why is Oisin O'Neill not starting?' But there is a reason why players like that are being held back. It's in order to see the games out in the closing stages.

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“The boys who are coming on are making an immediate impact and are making contributions, whether that's on the scoreboard, tracking back or creating a scoring opportunity for others.

Armagh's Ross McQuillan is another player who can impact the game off the substitutes bench this weekend. Pic; John MerryArmagh's Ross McQuillan is another player who can impact the game off the substitutes bench this weekend. Pic; John Merry
Armagh's Ross McQuillan is another player who can impact the game off the substitutes bench this weekend. Pic; John Merry

“The players are coming on at the right time, and they are seeing Armagh over the line. I think that they have the advantage this weekend due to the strength in depth of their squad.”

En route to this stage, Armagh have faced Donegal and Galway (who contest the other semi-final), Derry, Roscommon and others. With all due respect to Monaghan, Meath and Louth, Kerry came through their All-Ireland Series group untested, before swatting Derry by the wayside in the quarter-final.

That makes it hard to read where Kerry are at, but McDonnell gave his assessment of the team, stating that ‘Armagh can get at them’.

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“I believe they are in a similar position to where Dublin were, I don't think they are firing at all this year,” he said.

“I think there is an over-reliance on David Clifford, Paudie Clifford and Sean O'Shea, and sometimes having an over-reliance on a few players can impact how a team performs, because everything has to go through those players in order for them to perform at the highest level.

“But you can't underestimate Kerry. When it comes to semi-finals, they know more than any other team, what it takes to win these games.

David Clifford is going to cause a level of harm on Saturday, but Armagh will have to try to contain him says Steven McDonnell. Pic: John MerryDavid Clifford is going to cause a level of harm on Saturday, but Armagh will have to try to contain him says Steven McDonnell. Pic: John Merry
David Clifford is going to cause a level of harm on Saturday, but Armagh will have to try to contain him says Steven McDonnell. Pic: John Merry

“However, I think they are vulnerable, I think Armagh can get at them and if there's little in it with 20 minutes left, then Armagh have a really good chance.”

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Stopping (or at least slowing down) David Clifford is a must for Armagh, and McDonnell says that if they get their match-ups right on Saturday, they should win the game.

“For me, the pairings are going to be massive in this game for both camps. We have to identify who is the best person to go and mark David Clifford. He is going to cause a level of harm, there is no denying that, but we have to try and contain that somewhat.

“We also have to try to stop the ball from going in to David Clifford, and in order to that you have to limit the impact which Sean O'Shea and Paudie Clifford have on the game as well.

“Kerry also have attacking defenders, who get up the field and score as well. It is going to be an interesting battle on the side-line as much as on the pitch.

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“Jack O'Connor is going to have the same dilemma: who is going to pick up Conor Turbitt? Who is going to pick up Oisin Conaty? They won't have known a whole pile about those guys. Rian O'Neill is another guy who they are going to have to identify.

“There are lots of ifs and buts and pairings to get right. If Armagh get their pairings right, I am really confident that they can see this game out.”

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