By Frank Craig
Frank McGlynn expects sparks to fly when warring pair Donegal and Armagh clash in Ballybofey tomorrow – but he hopes it’s football that everyone is talking about when the dust eventually does settle.
The edge to the Tír Chonaill and Orchard rivalry at this moment in time couldn’t be sharper. Matters simmered to an angry boil in Lettekenny last month when the sides clashed on the last day of the National Football League.
A dust-up at the very end had a protracted inquest which eventually resulted in well documented suspensions for both sides. Donegal took their medicine but Armagh exhausted all available appeals avenues and, as late as last Tuesday night, finally had the names of Stefan Campbell, Ciarán Mackin and Aidan Nugent cleared to play.
The trio had failed to have one-match bans for their part in that previous fracas lifted by the Central Hearings Committee. However, they took their case to the Central Appeals Committee and succeeded in having their suspensions thrown out.
With Rian O’Neill’s ban also recently quashed, it means that Kieran McGeeney now has close to a full deck to draw from for Sunday’s encounter in MacCumhaill Park.
Neil McGee and Odhran McFadden-Ferry were also hit with proposed one-match bans but Donegal, at the time, elected to accept the penalties.
McGlynn – despite having 14 seasons of inter-county football under his belt – admits that the entire disciplinary process remains very much a mystery to him. But he says while Armagh’s reprieve will obviously be a huge boost to the Orchard men it will, he believes, also spur on Donegal this week who will no doubt feel a grave sense of injustice in regards to how the entire matter was handled.
“The news on Tuesday night came as a real surprise, I have to say,” the 2012 All-Ireland winner said. “It really is hard to fathom that Armagh is heading into the game without any suspensions and Donegal are going in with two.
“It is what it is now and I’m sure Declan and his backroom team will be using that as extra motivation this week. It’s very hard to figure it all out. I would have felt Donegal did the honourable thing and took their punishment. But the example shown by Armagh will only encourage others to push the thing as far as you can. It’s promoting the message that the appeals process is the way to go. We’ll see more of this trend now over the next few weeks and months, without a doubt.”
McGlynn came into the Donegal senior ranks in 2006 – a season when Armagh edged his side out in the Ulster final by just three points, 1-9 to 0-9 at Croke Park. Since then Donegal have ruled the roost on the majority of occasions their paths have crossed. But the Glenfin native believes something is stirring in Armagh once more and that they are a very serious proposition once again in Ulster.
“In 2014 in particular, people forget about it now but they almost had our number. We just got over the line late on. Their style of play, they like to play through the boot, they kick the ball on. And they have that old kind of physicality. It’s hugely exciting. It’s a very intriguing contest.”
In front of a packed house, the former All-Star says how match referee Maurice Deegan handles things could have a huge bearing on the direction the game veers as well as its outcome.
“The atmosphere will be something else. My three (children) are at the age now that they want to go along and as a supporter, I’m really looking forward to it as well. It’ll be ding dong and the margins will be fine. With what has gone on in the last few weeks and even days, it will have an impact. So the referee will have to try to keep a handle on things from the very start.
“We’re talking about two serious sides with some exceptional footballers. If it’s let go it could be really exciting. And that’s what you’d want to see on display, rather than anything else. The referee and his officials have a huge part to play in making sure it’s the football that dominates things.
“And that’s going to be a difficult ask. Once you step on that pitch, in that kind of environment, it takes serious concentration and discipline to stay inside the parameters of what is acceptable. And I don’t necessarily mean anything cynical. Mistimed or marginally late attempts, regardless of how genuine they are, you can pay a heavy price.
“Everyone is looking forward to this game, I just hope that it’s allowed to settle maybe and live up to those expectations. But the players will have a part to play in that as well.”
He added: “I look at that Donegal squad and I see a brilliant mix. We’re quick to criticise at times. But there is an experienced core there and a brilliant infusion of young talent has come on board. Sunday is a great chance to show just what they are capable of.”