Five years on from an 18-point pasting by Tyrone in their last All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in Croke Park, Rory Grugan insists Armagh will return a more “mature” team.
Grugan is one of just five survivors who started that day and are still starting now, an indication of the rebuild they have undertaken in that time.
They meet Galway in an All-Ireland quarter-final on Sunday week (1.45) when he hopes the benefit of the last two weekends will stand to them.
“I’d say we’re a more mature team. There’s been a lot of fresh blood and new faces. Young players have come in that time since that run in 2017. This squad is very different,” Grugan said.
“We’ve had a lot of harsh lessons, tough defeats on tough days, but I think the maturity in our performance over the last two weeks has been seen in how we controlled the second half both days against very experienced teams (Tyrone and Donegal).”
Grugan echoes his coach Kieran Donaghy’s view that they can justifiably look forward to Croke Park, given the type of football they will play.
“Everyone wants to play in Croke Park,” he said. “That’s players in general, but as a team and the way we play that’s where you want to be. You’d like to think it’s the sort of place we’d relish playing.”
Grugan’s goal a little over nine seconds in ranks as one of the quickest ever championship goals and is more evidence of how teams are trying to gain an edge in one of the few set-piece situations in Gaelic football where defence isn’t flooded with bodies.
“I suppose a throw-up can be a set-piece. It’s one of the few times that it’s 15 on 15. You can get early ball into the forwards without any massed defence. You try to make the most of it.
“It was a fairly agricultural pass in and it broke down for us and we were able to get the goal. You work on those things all the time and it’s rare that it comes off.
“If you come away with a score it’s good, if you come away with a goal, brilliant,” Grugan reflected.
A win over Donegal now, seven weeks after losing to them in an Ulster Championship match in Ballybofey, provides Armagh with great momentum now, given how they’ve been able to reverse that result so emphatically.
“A lot can change in seven weeks. You have tough days but you know you’re trying to do the right thing and the people we have in place are doing it for the right reasons.
“That’s two wins in-a-row to get to the quarter-final and we’ve been a Division 1 team the last two years, so that’s the bar you should be setting for yourself – to go and play in Croke Park in the latter stages of the championship.”