BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ARMAGH: The very mention of the word is enough to send a shudder down the spine of Donegal fans, given the painful Championship memories of the recent past, but on Saturday night it is the Orchard who stand between Jim McGuinnes’s side and a place in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Five years in a row from 2002-2006, Donegal suffered painful defeats at the hands of Armagh and there was that wretched afternoon at Crossmaglen in 2010 for a qualifier game that drew a line under the tenure of John Joe Doherty.
Revenge or retribution for those defeats isn’t necessarily on the menu, although there are a few survivors from those torrid days when Donegal’s Ulster dreams lay in tatters on the end of the orange fork.
Rather, redemption for their previous visits to GAA headquarters might be the dish prepared by McGuinness this week as he prepares to face Paul Grimley’s in-form side at Croke Park on Saturday evening (throw-in 4pm).
Their grip on Sam Maguire was painfully loosened by Mayo last August at the quarter-final stage, while Monaghan cut them down in April’s Division 2 League final.
Donegal have recovered significantly and, following their dismantling of Monaghan in the Ulster final they are back among the big players at the table again.
The Donegal squad spent Friday and Saturday night at a training camp in Mullingar and there are no injury worries reported from the Donegal camp as McGuinness looks set to be able to select from a full-strength panel as he plots the downfall of an Armagh side that has stormed to the county’s first quarter-final since 2008.
They outscored Meath 0-18 to 0-13 on Saturday night. They led 0-8 to 0-2 at one stage, but Meath were level 0-10 apiece as the game entered the final quarter. It was here that Armagh, with Aaron Kernan, Stefan Campbell, Jamie Clarke and Brian Mallon all on the mark with key scores.
It was a comprehensive win by Armagh, one that showed they can’t be taken lightly as Donegal aim to make their third All-Ireland semi-final in four years under McGuinness.
Donegal put injury concerns to Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh and Paddy McGrath to bed for the Ulster final. McGuinness will have a number of selection headaches. Patrick McBrearty knocked on the door with real authority after coming on as a sub in the first half of the Ulster final to kick three points and the Kilcar man will be in the frame this time around.
Armagh have been on a media ban of late – although Campbell did a brief interview with Sky Sports as their Man of the Match on Saturday – and it’s unlikey that there’ll be an overkill of soundbites from Donegal this week either.
The stakes are high and a place in the last four awaits the victor, who will cross their sword with that of Dublin or Monaghan in an All-Ireland semi-final on August 31.
The Donegal minors will be in action in the August 31 curtainraiser at Croke Park after they beat Roscommon 0-10 to 1-5 in Saturday’s quarter-final.
They play the winner of Monday’s game between Dublin and Cork in Thurles. Donegal boss Declan Bonner said: “Are we just going to see Croke Park? No. We’re going there to win a football match.”