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Darragh Ó Sé: No team is thinking about bonus territory but I still think it will be a Kerry v Galway final


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When I think of Armagh, I think of a team that most of us probably underrate. They have been incredibly consistent in the past few seasons under Kieran McGeeney. When it comes to effort and commitment, they haven’t been found wanting in any scenario. Given all that, it seems a bit mad to think that this is their first All-Ireland semi-final in nearly 20 years.

I had plenty of battles against the Armagh teams back when they were getting to this stage and the one thing you always said about them was that they were very good at winning close games. They were in plenty of matches in the Ulster championship back then when they didn’t play the best football but still came out ahead. That’s the one thing this generation is lacking.

Armagh would have needed very little to go their way over the past few seasons to be considered right up there among the very top teams. Losing four penalty shoot-outs in three years would be a killer for any team but it has to be especially hard on Armagh because of the games they have lost them in.

Two of them were in Ulster finals, two of them were in All-Ireland quarter-finals. When you haven’t won Ulster since 2008 and haven’t been to an All-Ireland semi-final since 2005, they start to feel like glass ceilings. You have to give them huge credit for dusting themselves off and going again each time.

Kerry’s David Clifford will have to be in good shooting form if the Kingdom is to progress. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

I think it says a lot about their mindset that they’re here. When you keep losing on very fine margins, it would be very easy to fall into the trap of thinking there’s nothing you can do about it. In a player’s head, all those defeats can build up. You can start wondering why you keep setting yourself up for a fall. You can convince yourself that it’s never going to happen.

It looks fairly obvious to me that Armagh have told themselves a different story. They have been more clear-eyed about it and realised that they’re not too far away. They can see that it’s all there for them. Nobody has more experience of being in close games. Eventually, that should stand to them.

In Kerry all week, most of the chat has been around this being a kind of a rerun of the Derry game. I don’t see it like that. We have an awful tendency down here to lump the northern teams in together but I see Armagh as a team that carries a different sort of threat.

Kerry eventually put Derry to bed in a pig of a game at Croke ParkOpens in new window ]

For one thing, Derry had basically three long-range kickers in Shane McGuigan, Conor Glass and Brendan Rodgers. Not only do Armagh have more — the likes of Rian O’Neill, Andrew Murnin, Stefan Campbell and Conor Turbitt can all kick plenty of scores from outside the D — they have them in the forwards.

That makes a difference. It means Kerry can’t sit as deep as they did against Derry. Obviously, if the wet weather keeps up then that changes things but if it’s a dry ball, Kerry will have to play on the front foot more than they did the last day. They can’t invite Armagh on to them because they will give up too many shooting opportunities.

Donegal’s manager Jim McGuinness and Patrick McBrearty celebrate after the penalty shoot-out against Armagh. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

I think that suits Kerry better anyway. One of the things McGeeney will be worried about is the fact that neither of the two Cliffords have put in a big performance in the championship so far. They’re going out on Saturday with something to prove. When you combine that with the whole team naturally having to play more football, there’s a good chance we will see an improved version of Kerry this weekend.

It’s rare that you get to this stage with four managers who are such big characters. The one thing nobody will be thinking is that they’re in bonus territory here. In other seasons, a team like Donegal who were such no-hopers just a year ago might have a small thing in the back of their heads that they’ve got plenty out of the year already. Promotion to Division One, an Ulster title, an All-Ireland semi-final. You’d be nearly starting a Jim For Pope campaign off the back of it.

Jim McGuinness delivers silverware for Donegal after frantic endgame with ArmaghOpens in new window ]

But we all know that’s not what they’re thinking. Jim McGuinness has them humming. They’re playing with pace and running up big scores. They’ve seen off all the good teams in Ulster and got their land against Cork, good and early with time to recover from it.

My one slight worry for Donegal is that they probably don’t have access to the same level of quality as Galway. They’re a serious team with a few brilliant performers — Peadar Mogan is having some season and if they can get Jason McGee back, their midfield is as good as there is around.

But they don’t have a Shane Walsh, a Damien Comer or Seán Kelly. Even though all three have had their injuries, they’ve all still been able to find a way to influence games in Galway’s run to the semi-final. Comer wasn’t great the last day but I look at that the same way as I look at the Cliffords with Kerry. The season is nearly done — if you’re a gallery player like Comer, you’re not going to allow it to fizzle out without leaving your mark.

Pádraic Joyce isn’t going to let McGuinness dictate terms either. You’re looking at a pair of boys there who have known each other a long time and who wouldn’t be known for taking a backward step, no matter who they’re up against. Joyce’s Galway teams have a great record against Ulster counties and they’ll be well fit for whatever Donegal come to Croke Park with.

Overall, I think we’re going to end up with a Kerry v Galway final.

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