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'This guy is a superstar' - O'Neill availability a game changer for Armagh Ulster hopes

Armagh’s star man has been cleared to face Donegal in their Ulster opener.

Rian O'Neill in action for Armagh against Dublin.
Rian O'Neill in action for Armagh against Dublin.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE CLEARANCE OF star forward Rian O’Neill to feature in the Ulster championship is a game changer for Armagh’s aspirations, according to RTÉ pundit Kevin McStay.

O’Neill’s proposed one-match ban, arising out of an incident involving several players at the end of Armagh’s recent league game against Donegal in Letterkenny, has been rescinded.

Kieran McGeeney’s team are still set to be without Stefan Campbell, Ciarán Mackin and Aidan Nugent for their rematch against Donegal, in the Ulster quarter-final on Sunday 24 April. 

The former Roscommon boss believes the availability of O’Neill, who starred for Armagh in this year’s league, most notably when scoring 1-4 against Dublin, changes the context for the game.

“I will say this, the availability of Rian O’Neill to the Donegal game completely changes the season now in my opinion,” said McStay, speaking yesterday’s at RTÉ’s GAA championship launch.

“While Colm (Boyle), you mentioned Tyrone as your favourites in Ulster, if you look at the draw they have Derry away after they beat Fermanagh and then Monaghan are lined up in the semi-final.

“That is a savage spin through the province, whereas the winners of Donegal/Armagh I’d be positive will be in the Ulster final waiting for them.

“Now this Ballybofey game takes on a massive importance, and having Rian O’Neill there.

“You all know yourselves, this guy is a superstar, I am fairly sure. He is a fantastic footballer. A goal and three you can jot him down for on average in a big match like that.

“It’s hugely significant.”

McStay can understand why such efforts are made to clear players in disciplinary situations.

kevin-mcstay Former Roscommon boss Kevin McStay. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“I think arriving with all these lawyers. I am not sure about the spirit of the thing, but I suppose if I was that player, and it’s a massive match, I want my manager and my county to do everything possible to free me up.

“Careers are short. This is a very short championship. You lose in Ulster and you lose the first round of the qualifiers the ball is burst, it’s all over, you are out, for this year anyway.

“You might have a few extra games next year. Yeah, that’s the context. I think I would prefer the citing thing.

“Get in Monday, review the tapes, get the citations out by the evening.

“And off you go then, have it tidied up by Wednesday.”

tempers-flare-at-the-final-whistle Armagh and Donegal players clash in Letterkenny. Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

Armagh’s frustrations with the handling of the incident were acknowledged as well by McStay.

“I know that in Armagh there was deep, deep frustration with the citing. Obviously they had been involved in the previous one, at the end of their league match against Tyrone.

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“You might have thought they would learn a lesson.

“But their deep frustration – and I can tell you they have been thinking of it and looking at past melees involving Mayo and Dublin and Kerry and so on. We can all remember them, going down tunnels at half time and down in Tralee in a league match last year.

“They see this as the top teams as usual being brushed aside. I have a sense that the GAA did their usual annual line in the sand after David Gough and said, ‘Right, we are going after it now.’

“But the point is reasonably made by Armagh, the rules haven’t changed.

“They were always there, why are they now just being applied, when over the last 18 or 24 months they weren’t, so you can understand their frustration.

“Now, you would have imagined they would have learned the lesson.

“That would be my angle on it I suppose if I was in management. It’s obvious the GAA in 2022 are not allowing this and David Gough’s decisions underlined that.”

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