Owen Mulligan: Armagh being in ‘bonus territory’ is complete nonsense

The iconic Tyrone forward can’t wait for the clash of old rivals this weekend...

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All I’ve been hearing from Armagh supporters – and some of their former players – this week is that this game is ‘bonus territory’ for them. That’s complete nonsense.

Such statements belittle the team and indicate a lack of faith in them. Instead, Armagh should treat the match as a stepping stone to the next challenge.

Last week I was rightly slated on Twitter for backing against Armagh – I thought Kildare would beat them well and I’m happy to admit I got it wrong.

Some of the tackles they put in were hugely impressive and I haven’t seen that from them in ages. Usually, they would lay down and take their defeat, but now they are grinding out the results.

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Over the last few years it hasn’t seemed an honour or a privilege to play for Armagh. When I played against them they met you with everything they had, but that dwindled away recently.

The famous orange jersey was just thrown in the corner, but this run has brought some respect back to it.

I’ll hold my hand up and say I was one of the people calling for McGeeney to go earlier in the year after the National League defeat to Tipperary and the loss to Down.

He was walking the plank after those, but he’s a natural born winner and that has become clear. He owes Armagh nothing, he’s won an All-Ireland for them and yet he chose to take the manager’s job.

He was walking the plank after those, but he’s a natural born winner and that has become clear.

Kieran owes Armagh nothing, he’s won an All-Ireland for them and yet he chose to take the manager’s job.

It’s a massive ask for him this weekend against this Tyrone outfit though. However, if he pulls it off and makes it to the semi-final then McGeeney may be in that Armagh hot seat for many years to come.

Without doubt Armagh are a different animal after coming through the Qualifiers. They didn’t do themselves justice at all against Down.

Ulster wasn’t hugely competitive this season anyway, but the back door has worked wonders for the Orchard men. Travelling the length and breadth of the country for games builds a great bond between players and management.

Everyone loves playing football matches, but people don’t love constant training. That’s what helped us to a second All-Ireland title when Tyrone went down that route in 2005.

We’d nine or 10 games and everyone said we’d be tired, but playing week in, week out builds the character of a team. We were going in on Tuesdays and Thursdays just going through tactics and having short, sharp sessions.

Then you were on the bus and the craic is good, so you couldn’t be fatigued. We actually couldn’t wait to get out on the field, get the job done and move onto the next one.

My only fear for Tyrone is that they haven’t been tested yet in the Championship, despite winning in Ulster. They’ve been racking up serious scores and finishing teams off in the first half.

Are they battle hardened enough for me? ‘No’ is the answer. Armagh have the greater momentum going into this one; the tighter the games are in Championship football the better it is for any side coming out of them.

Armagh have been grinding out results and if they’re going to win on Saturday, it’s going to be by one or two points.

Let’s talk about Jamie

I don’t know what has happened with Jamie Clarke, but he’s embraced being the star man again. Sometimes players need a bit of a break – he went to New York and had a good time – and he’s been unbelievable since he came back.

McGeeney has seemed to put the arm around him as if to say ‘look, you’re one of the best players around’ and he’s proved that this year. His movement and some of the points he picked off last week was just unreal.

A manager needs to do that sometimes and you see it work in soccer a lot.

Armagh’s biggest difficulty could be trying to get him on the ball enough come Saturday against that tigerish Tyrone defence.

He’s got a great footballing brain though and Clarke sees the next run before anyone. He can make the game look effortless at times.

Super Saturday

The reason Mickey Harte is such a good manager is that he tries to combat complacency at source. He’s a good man at playing everything down to the outside world while saying ‘we are the best’ within the dressing room.

The reason I’m portraying the Armagh game as a stepping stone for Tyrone is because I have confidence in them to win. They are way above Ulster football at the moment and they could dominate the province for years to come because the teams around them aren’t on their level.

If Armagh are to have a chance they need to stay in the game in the first half and try to rough up their opponents. However, I fancy Tyrone for this one by three or four points.

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What do you think?