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Grugan determined to experience first Ulster win

By Orla Bannon

It's a record that frustrates, embarrasses and motivates Armagh captain Rory Grugan in equal measure.

Despite being on the fringes of the orchard squad since 2013, the 2009 All-Ireland winning minor has yet to win an Ulster SFC championship match with Armagh.

Grugan was in the squad when they beat Cavan in the first round in 2014 under Paul Grimley, a game more remembered for a mass pre-match brawl at the Athletic Grounds. They went on to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals that year, Grugan was a used substitute in all of those games, bar the all-important first one.

For a young player growing up conditioned to watching Armagh teams win Ulster titles as a matter of routine, it's a staggering length of time to wait for a victory.

“For me as a player, for that to be associated with you and your team, it's hard to get past.

“I guess that people are saying 'well the potential is there but they just aren't delivering on it' so for us it's about getting that monkey off our back.

“It's there now, the record.

“There's nothing we can do about it except try and win this one and it's a big motivation, that's only natural.”

'This one' is Sunday's Ulster SFC first round match against Down in Pairc Esler.

Two years ago Armagh went to Newry as favourites and got turned over, just one of several missed opportunities in the life of this team.

Defeat in a memorable high-scoring shootout to Roscommon in Portlaoise last year cost them a place in the inaugural Super 8s, and they missed out on promotion to Division One this year.

Rory Grugan of Armagh in action against Shay Millar of Down during the 2017 Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final.
Rory Grugan of Armagh in action against Shay Millar of Down during the 2017 Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final.

They were told it was for the best, that they weren't ready, but try telling that to the players.

“If you asked any inter-county player would they rather progress or stay where they are... I mean everyone is competitive.

“It might have been in hindsight that we would have struggled to stay in Division One next year, but how else are you going to test yourself?

“It was the same last year. We were told we were better off not getting to the Super 8s when you saw how Roscommon did, but you wouldn't get many players subscribing to that.

“The neutrals really enjoyed that game but there's not much consolation for the gallant losers so I'd rather have been on the right side of the result.

“I would rather pit myself against the best and see where you fit because ultimately everyone wants to play at the top level.

“The Super 8s would have been a really good stepping stone for us, and looking to this year it's something we would love to experience.”

Unlike a lot of squads who have players travelling to training from Dublin and elsewhere, most of the Armagh players are based around home.

Grugan teaches French in St Fanchea's College in Enniskillen so being around home most of the time means he gets to hear very quickly what the fans are thinking.

And he believes manager Kieran McGeeney, now in his fifth year in charge, gets an unfair rap over his managerial record in the Ulster championship.

“You have Kieran as this iconic player for Armagh and someone we look up to so much as players, and have so much respect for him,” says Grugan.

“I think you can tell by the way we speak about him how much time we have for him and I don't know whether the expectations that were then on him, he seems to get a bit of a hard time of it, even among our own supporters at times.

“But I suppose that's just the nature of inter-county management, it's fairly cut-throat that way.”

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