Steven McDonnell talks about Donegal rivalry and why there was an "agenda" to get Armagh players sent off 2 months ago

Steven McDonnell talks about Donegal rivalry and why there was an "agenda" to get Armagh players sent off

"Donegal made the decision themselves that they didn’t want to appeal and it seems to have backfired on them."

Armagh legend Steven McDonnell has had plenty of experience playing Ulster championship football, and coming up against Donegal in particular.

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The two sides will meet this Sunday in the provincial quarter-finals, and after a very heated battle on the last day of the league, tensions are certainly high.

Speaking at the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championship Launch, McDonnell describes the history of the rivalry.

"Then we took over and then Donegal took the mantle over again. Hopefully, it's Armagh's turn to repay the favour for hopefully the next decade or so.

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"But that all starts on Sunday. Listen, we know going up to Ballybofey, it's definitely not going to be an easy task to get across the line, but it's a task that Armagh are very capable of achieving and winning this game.

"But at the same time Donegal are capable of winning this game, that makes for a more special occasion and a game that I'm certainly very much looking forward to."

12 June 2005; Michael Boyle, Donegal goalkeeper, shakes hands with Armagh's Steven McDonnell at the end of the match. Bank of Ireland Ulster Senior Football Championship Semi-Final, Donegal v Armagh, St. Tighernach's Park, Clones, Co. Monaghan. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / SPORTSFILE
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At the end of that fiery game in the league, a melee broke out which later resulted in Stefan Campbell, Ciarán Mackin, Aidan Nugent and Rian O'Neill all receiving one-match suspensions for Armagh.

Donegal received two as well, which meant Neill McGee and Odhran McFadden-Ferry will also miss the upcoming Ulster fixture.

However, the Orchard county opted to appeal those suspension and had all four of them successfully overturned, while Donegal chose to accept the original decision and not appeal.

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"Sometimes it can backfire on you as well but Donegal made the decision themselves that they didn’t want to appeal and it seems to have backfired on them not to do that, and it worked in Armagh’s favour on this occasion," added McDonnell.

"All we’re looking forward to now is a hotly contested game of football and whatever has gone on in the last couple of weeks is done and dusted now and so let the games begin.

"It’ll hurt Donegal in the fact that they are missing two key players, but one of the players that is still out for Armagh in Ciarán Mackin, he’s been a revelation for Armagh throughout the National League campaign in midfield and he’s going to be a huge loss as well, so it probably evens itself out."

Initially when the suspensions were handed out, Rian O'Neill wasn't on the list, and before the county even appealed they then handed him a ban as well - something that is unusual in terms of protocol.

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Many Armagh fans saw this to be unfair, and believe that there was a plan to try and get their players sent off so they would miss the championship opener.

"There's no doubt about it. Without going into too much details on it now, we want to concentrate on the football end of things but we do feel that yes, there was probably an agenda set, particularly towards the end of that game, to get players from Armagh sent off and [get] possible suspensions for this game.

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

"So I think the focus from Kieran McGeeney and his team will be concentrating on the football aspect of things and hopefully the rest will look after itself.

"I think Kieran will have the players in the mindset that it was never going to be overturned anyway, so just train with the team and train as if you'll be missing it regardless.

"If you get the decision then, it's an added bonus for the team and that overall will give the whole squad of players a good uplift of fortunes going into this weekend."

Armagh have undoubtedly made progress under Kieran McGeeney, especially in the league, but their championship record still isn't great and that's something McDonnell hopes they can rectify this year.

"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. Donegal are one of those top performing teams that are consistently there or thereabouts, so if Armagh give them a couple of points of a lead, then they'll have their work cut out.

"So they have to stay in the game, stay competitive, within a point or two the whole time and then hopefully the firepower up front will be the key to success."