Owen Mulligan: Tyrone wouldn’t have won an All-Ireland if Armagh hadn’t paved the way

A veteran of many Ulster scraps, Mugsy takes aim at current Orchard County boss Kieran McGeeney


In the early naughties I was lucky enough to be part of a team that would strike up one of the fiercest rivalries in the GAA – Tyrone v Armagh.

Did we hate each other? Of course we did, but we’d have had a great respect at the same time even if we’d be afraid to show it. From 1999 right through to 2008 Armagh dominated Ulster football only missing out on a few provincial titles.

When you played them back in those days you’d be in for a hell of a battle. They had leaders all over the pitch, were hard, fit and could grind out results.

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I was marked by Francie Bellew. That boy would test the fabric of your jersey and I’d have to count my ribs one by one to make sure they were still intact after a game.

They had their finest hour in 2002 when they lifted the Sam Maguire and seeing them win that definitely kick started Tyrone.

I remember watching the final against Kerry and thinking “We grew up beating these boys”. It was hammered into us in team meetings before the 2003 season that if they could do it that we could too.

We’d hear stories about their professionalism and how they were totally focussed on winning an All-Ireland, they weren’t settling for Ulster titles and that really hit home with us. I recall thinking “bloody hell, if we can matching their hunger and get a bit of luck then we can do this”.

Tyrone wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland if Armagh hadn’t won it in 2002. They gave us confidence, raised the bar and gave us a target that we would ultimately reach.

Armagh Decline

Armagh used to bully teams back in the early 2000s and would back it up with results. They had players with a win at all costs mentality and it would terrify the life out of the opposition.

Their squad was full of big personalities that would stand out on the big days and that would crawl over the line for the jersey. These sorts of players and groups only come around every once in a while, they just don’t have that any more.

They’re playing Division 3 and couldn’t even get promotion. Is that good enough? Absolutely not.

When all of their All-Ireland winners retired, they simply couldn’t replace them and their still struggling because of it. For me, the Armagh glory days are a thing of the past and there’s absolutely no hope of them returning any time soon.

McGeeney Suspension

When I heard about Kieran McGeeney’s 12 week ban for verbals I thought it was a joke, especially when you take into account that Davy Fitzgerald got a lesser suspension for running on to the pitch looking for a bit of action.

Managers are under serious pressure and things do get said, but whatever he said couldn’t be so bad to justify a 12-week ban.

Having played against Kieran I can tell you that it’s totally out of character, he’s not the type to get involved in verbals. To me it looks as though Ulster teams are getting dealt a low blow again and I don’t believe that he’d have gotten such a long suspension if he wasn’t from a ‘northern’ team.

He’s a big loss to the team as the man has a serious presence on the sideline and that’s where I’d want him to be if I was an Armagh player.

The heat is on ‘Geezer’

That said, the pressure is now on for McGeeney after taking the job on a full team basis after been a number 2 for Grimley. He was the name on everybody’s lips in Armagh to take the county back to the glory days.

But as we see time and time again, great players and leaders don’t always make great managers. McGeeney has found it hard to emulate Joe Kernan and the likes.

Alright he was dealt a blow with Jamie Clarke deciding to travel to the US, but opting to play Paul Courtney, an outfield player, in goal last year failed miserably and only casts more doubt on whether Geezer the right man for the job.

He’s been three years in charge now, which should’ve been ample time for him to get things together.

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