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Steven McDonnell: 'We do feel there was probably an agenda set towards the end of that game'

Armagh face Donegal in their Ulster championship opener on Sunday.

Armagh's Steven McDonnell.
Armagh's Steven McDonnell.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

ARMAGH FORWARD GREAT Steven McDonnell believes his county’s players were targeted in their recent league meeting with Donegal.

The counties renew acquaintances in the Ulster championship on Sunday, but the interim has been dominated by disciplinary matters following a melee at the end of that game in Letterkenny.

Armagh received a boost this week with Stefan Campbell, Aidan Nugent and Ciaran Mackin all made available after the GAA’s CAC overturned their one-match bans.

McDonnell was responding when asked have Armagh been unfairly targeted, at today’s launch of Electric Ireland’s GAA Minor Championships.

“Quite possibly, yeah. There’s no doubt about it, without going into too much detail about it we want to concentrate on the football end of things now, we do feel that yes, there was probably an agenda set, particularly towards the end of that particular game, to get key players from Armagh sent off and maybe possible suspension for this particular game.

“But it’s done and dusted now and we have all of our players available and fit and ready to go into battle in Ballybofey. So what has gone on in the past, you leave it there and you move on, you can use it as your motivation if you wish but also you can be sidetracked by that and not put in a performance that you want to put in. 

“Listen I think Kieran will have the players in the mindset that they would have been believing, that it was never going to be overturned anyway, so just train with the team and train as if you’re going to be missing the game regardless. If you get the decision overturned then, that’s an added bonus for the team.

“I think that overall will give the whole squad of players a good uplift in fortunes coming into this particular weekend.”

McDonnell identifies claiming silverware as a key aim for this Armagh group.

the-armagh-team-stand-for-the-national-anthem The Armagh team stand for the national anthem before a league game against Monaghan. Source: Philip Magowan/INPHO

“It can stand as a platform for a team to develop and push on in the next couple of years as well. We’re definitely craving an Ulster title at this stage and I just think for the development of this particular team, they need to see silverware as well.

“All I can remember is when we lifted it in 1999, it had been 17 years since we won it so we’re almost at that same timeframe again and we saw how big of a deal it was back then. It gives a county as a whole a massive lift.

“Donegal have been a very competitive team in terms of Ulster football and the national stage over the last 10, 12 years. Armagh have to get to that level and we believe in Armagh, now’s the opportunity, now’s the time that they should be reaching those types of levels again.

“It’s certainly the strongest 15 and strongest squad that they have assembled. Playing Division 1 football brings a team on no end. They were very competitive anyway, there was no game where you could say that they were absolutely destroyed or annihilated.

“Armagh have proven throughout the course of this campaign, that they are a team on the up. Going back to last year’s game, there was a lot of hype and talk about Armagh, potentially reaching an Ulster final and they failed to deliver, particularly in the first half against Monaghan in Newry. They conceded heavily and left themselves an awful lot to do. They did give a great account of themselves in that second half but you can’t afford to let the top teams build up a lead like that on you. If you do that, you don’t deserve to win. Armagh have failed to do that in the last few years.”

McDonnell is confident that Armagh have enough attackers capable of supporting their marquee name Rian O’Neill.

“Armagh are very lucky in that department in that they have plenty of forwards capable of producing good scoring returns. Stefan Campbell has been sprung from the bench kicking a couple of points every game. Aidan Nugent for me is a remarkable footballer. If you go to enough club games in Armagh, you’ll see that he is one of the most prolific forwards we have in the game here.

“We haven’t seen Conor Turbitt who lit up the Armagh Club Championship last year and he’s coming back and what I’m led to believe is he’s fit from an injury he picked up in the Mayo league game. Rory Grugan is another one who never ever lets the side down.

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“Rian O’Neill is undoubtedly Armagh’s marquee forward, but other players will have to step up to the mark and Armagh have the players capable of doing that.

Before Sunday’s game, McDonnell has a more pressing Armagh football engagement. His son Kealan is involved with the county minor squad, they face their first Ulster tie when they host Derry in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening.

“He’s playing for Armagh yeah, they play their first game this Saturday. I’ve added interest in the minor championship this year.

“I’ve tended to stay away from coaching my own kids growing up. I always try to give small pieces of information and advice but that’s as far as it goes. Ideally I’d prefer if they learned from many different coaches.

“The last time I would have coached him was maybe when he was U13, U14. I was only playing a side role within the team.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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