HomeFootballArmagh spirit augurs well for Ulster final says Ben Crealey

Armagh spirit augurs well for Ulster final says Ben Crealey


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WITH a couple of minutes left in their Ulster semi-final against Down, Armagh were behind and the resilience they showed to dig their way out of trouble and win by a point augurs well for their chances in Sunday’s Ulster final.

The Orchardmen had developed a bad habit of coming out on the losing side in tight games, but despite struggling to find fluency against Down their grandstand finish meant they reached a second provincial decider on-the-trot.

Midfielder Ben Crealey has seen a lot of hard work count for very little as Armagh fell just short but hope springs eternal and the Maghery clubman is confident that, after years of banging on the Championship door, the Orchardmen will finally force it open this time.

“We’ve had disappointments before,” said Crealey.

“We’ve been in good positions in games but we haven’t been able to finish them off. The big positive from the Down game was that we were able to do that. We keep going and hopefully we’ll get over the line this time.”

A towering giant of a man, former rally driver Crealey is one of the tallest players in the inter-county game and he’ll earn his corn on Sunday if Armagh are to reach a height they haven’t scaled since 2008.

Back then, Paul McGrane was the mainstay in midfield as Armagh captured their sixth Anglo-Celt Cup in a marvellous decade for the Orchard county that included three Ulster final victories over Donegal.

Jason McGee's mastery in midfield provided the platform for an impressive Donegal win over Armagh. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Donegal’s Jason McGee in action against Armagh in the Ulster Championship in 2022. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.

Momentum swung Donegal’s way in 2014 and dominant Championship wins followed in 2015, 2020 and 2022 until Armagh broke the cycle with a 10-point Qualifier win later in that 2022 season. Crealey was in midfield with Stephen Sheridan (now part of Armagh’s backroom team) that day at Clones and was up against the equally imposing Jason McGee.

The clash of the midfield sky-scrapers is one of the many sub-plots fans can look forward to on Sunday. Given the importance of goalkeeper Shaun Patton’s kickouts to Donegal, Crealey will play a key role alongside Rian O’Neill in the Anglo-Celt decider.

Donegal’s midfield battle – particularly in the first half – against Derry’s champion pairing of Conor Glass and Brendan Rogers is one of the highlights of the Championship so far.

Two of Donegal’s four goals came from Patton restarts (another came via the boot of sub goalie Gavin Mulreany) and, given the form of McGee, Ciaran Thompson, Michael Langan and Caolan McGonagle, Crealey and the Armagh midfield may not face a tougher challenge this summer.

Although he brilliantly grabbed the one kickout that came his way in the semi-final against Down, Maghery clubman Crealey wasn’t able to show off his full repertoire. Restarts were mostly played short during that game and he was replaced in the second half by Jason Duffy – it’ll be a different story on Sunday.

“We got over the line,” said Crealey of the one-point win against the Mournemen.

“Semi-finals are there to be won and that’s the main thing but it was a frustrating day for everybody. We don’t go into any game complacent – we approached that game like we’d approach any semi-final but Down played very well and we didn’t get any rhythm so it was tough.

“We needed Aidan Nugent and Jason Duffy to come off the bench and get important scores for us. We have a good bench and those guys came on and made the difference. They brought good energy when they came on, they gave us a lift when we needed a lift,

“It was frustrating, but we’re in the final.”

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