OVER 36 years ago, Tony Hanahoe – the Dublin captain – in his acceptance speech following the team’s All-Ireland success over Armagh, commented that the Ulster players “deserved great credit for reaching the final, which is quite an achievement for a Division Three team”.
In the interim period since Gerry O’Neill’s players’ heroics, Armagh’s fortunes have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.
All the pain of on ordinary period during the 1990s, when Championship victories proved so rare, was replaced by the highs of a glittering All-Ireland success in 2002.
This summer, Paul Grimley’s men may be forced once again to begin a Championship campaign from a low Third Division base and, similarly to 1977, the odds of landing the greatest prize in gaelic football will be long.
The writing, as they say, will be on the wall this Sunday following Armagh’s crunch National Football League game against Galway. The Tribesmen scored 21 points when they last visited the venue, a win which came in total isolation on the back of an unsuccessful league campaign.
The Orchard County men, in their prime, had gone on a 14-game unbeaten run during the 2005 season before Peter Canavan ended the dream in the All-Ireland semi-finals from a set-piece.
Over the past number of years – firstly under the management of Paddy O’Rourke and now with Grimley – Armagh have struggled to achieve back-to-back wins irrespective of the nature of the opposition.
The achievements aside of a very good minor side that reached the top back in 2009, Armagh football has hit a low ebb and continued to plummet since 2008 when Wexford reminded Joe Kernan’s players of their mortality in the All-Ireland quarter-finals in Croke Park.
Grimley indicated that he is “in for the long haul” irrespective of what Sunday’s crunch tie against Galway may bring. “If the worst comes to the worst, I will not run away from this,” said Grimley. “I will stay and see it through.”
With some fans suggesting that Grimley will have a huge task to pull the current county team around, others see him as the man to eventually bring the team back to the top.
But even a win on Sunday would not guarantee the Ulster men Division Two football next season. Should Armagh win and finish on six points, if Louth beat Longford – who are already relegated – and Wexford defeat Laois, Grimley’s outfit will still go down.
Supporters will be hoping that results will go Armagh’s way on Sunday. Should the county men be relegated, it would result next season in travelling to places like Tipperary, Limerick, Roscommon and Sligo depending on next weekend’s results.
So, has Grimley inherited a team in fatal decline, or can the Pearse Ogs man turn things around in time for the Championship clash with Cavan in the summer?
Grimley believes that his side have done enough to stay in Division Two: “Our performances have been good enough to see us remain in Division Two. I would be confident of getting a result against Galway on Sunday. That game in the Championship is our focal point of the season.”