Galway want to face Armagh in Croke Park in final game of All-Ireland group stage

Galway top Group One after making home advantage count in opener against Mickey Harte’s Derry

Armagh came within a whisker of an All-Ireland semi-final but were denied by Galway
Armagh came within a whisker of an All-Ireland semi-final but were denied by Galway in 2022

GALWAY want to play Armagh at Croke Park in their final Group One game of the All-Ireland series.

Last year the counties met at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon but the Leitrim venue is closed for the rest of the year due to resurfacing work. Back then, like now, Galway were Connacht champions and Armagh were Ulster Championship runners-up.

The Tribesmen were pre-game favourites after Armagh had struggled to beat Westmeath (their opponents on Saturday evening) and had lost to Tyrone but Kieran McGeeney’s side went toe-to-toe with Padraic Joyce’s men and a late Rory Grugan free meant they took the win and topped the group.

A similar scenario going into this year’s final round can’t be ruled out and Galway manager Joyce wants the game - which must be played at a neutral venue - at Croke Park which was the scene of the turbulent clash between the counties in 2022.

Galway won that game – an All-Ireland quarter-final – on penalties and Armagh have lost three Championship thrillers since then on shootouts. Last year Derry and Monaghan pipped Armagh at the post and, after Donegal did the same in the Ulster final 10 days’ ago, Joyce said he felt sympathy for his former opponent McGeeney.

However, he expects Armagh to have put the loss behind them by the time the counties meet.

“They’ll bounce back,” he said.

Padraic Joyce led Galway to the Connacht title this season Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Padraic Joyce led Galway to a Connacht three in-a-row this season Picture Margaret McLaughlin

“Unfortunately, whatever’s in it, they’ve lost four (Championship) matches on penalties and it’s a cruel way to lose games. I’d be good pals with Kieran McGeeney and I’d feel sorry for them – you would feel sorry for them at this stage. They’re a formidable side but we’ll worry about them when the time comes.

“Obviously the venue will be the big one there, we’re looking to try and get the game into Croke Park if we can. We’ll see where it goes but we’ll focus on Westmeath first.”

After last year’s loss to Armagh, Galway were knocked out of the All-Ireland series at the preliminary quarter-final stage by Mayo. They avenged that loss in this year’s Connacht final and began the group stage with a five-point win against Derry at Pearse Stadium on Saturday evening.

“We didn’t get much chance from a lot of people, which is fine,” said Joyce.

“But we knew ourselves we were well-positioned for it. It was a home game and we have a decent record against Derry in Championship football, so we were happy enough with where we were at.

“This was a big game for whoever won it, top of the table, obviously we want to avoid that preliminary quarter-final if we can.

“We’ll review this game on Tuesday night and move on to Westmeath on Sunday week. We found it hard enough up there last year in Mullingar for 50-55 minutes. Damien (Comer) came on and helped us out of a sticky situation so we won’t be taking it for granted.”

Comer, Rob Finnerty and Sean Kelly all left the field with injuries on Saturday but Joyce hopes to have them fit for the trip to Mullingar. Cillian McDaid made a welcome return after 58 minutes against the Oak Leafers.

“It was great to have Cillian back,” said Joyce.

“He was almost there for a Connacht final but we didn’t need him in the finish-up and it was a good way for him to get a bit of time there. You could see there he is rusty, it’s one thing being back fit to play but being back match fit… You have to build them up.”