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Armagh outclassed by a team that's capable of winning Sam

Rory Gallagher rallies his troops ahead of their Ulster Championship duel with Armagh at the Athletic Grounds
The Boot Room with Brendan Crossan

UPON his return to Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas told the story of the main differences in training between Arsenal and Barcelona.

At Arsenal, Fabregas was a free spirit. He had licence to roam all over the field to try and affect games for Arsene Wenger’s team.

Although he was brought up on the club’s purist traditions, he’d forgotten quite a bit about what he’d learned as a youngster at Barcelona.

“Barcelona,” he said in 2012, “have a very specific system and you have to stick to it. Everything is very studied. For my first games there was an adjustment because I was used to my role at Arsenal, where I could move wherever I felt I could make the best contribution.

“Here, it’s completely different. Everyone has their place and it’s important you stick to your position.”

Fabregas added: “ We train more, here [Barcelona], definitely… We’re always outside, with the ball, practising, working tactically. Even if we play almost every three days we hardly have a day off. We train a lot – nearly every day.”

Barcelona had class footballers in every position of the field. So, too, did the Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup – and look what happened to them.

Even great players need the right system to flourish in. Pep Guardiola was the man with the plan.

To succeed at the highest level it takes practice, practice and more practice.

At a sun-splashed Athletic Grounds last Sunday, stadium officials had an overflow section for reporters because the notoriously sound-proofed press box was jammed tight.

The overflow section turned out to be the best seats in the house.

Situated at the back of the all-seater stand and right in line with the '50, we were 20 metres or so from Rory Gallagher.

It was instructive to listen to the Donegal manager, and watch his players react to every direction he gave.

He shouted to midfielder Neil Gallagher, gesturing for him to trot up to the full-forward line for a few minutes.

As Donegal launched yet another attack in the second half, Gallagher's gaze turned to his defence.

He shouted to Paddy McGrath to stay where he was and don't move. McGrath got the thumbs up for just being in exactly the right defensive position.

For Gallagher, every player was like a piece on a chessboard.

Every Donegal player had his zone. But more impressive again was the way in which the Donegal players were rotated at various stages of the match, undoubtedly at pre-determined times in the game.

To successfully execute these kinds of tactics on big Championship days takes an unfathomable amount of hours and patience on the training field.

Donegal must do more walk-through training sessions than any other inter-county team in the country.

With every clever player rotation, Armagh became more confused. The more confused they became, the more confidence ebbed from their hearts and minds.

At times their players didn't know whether to stick or twist: to follow or to sit?

In the second half, there was an uncomfortable period when the Armagh players decided to sit along their own '50 and put little or no pressure on the ball which allowed Donegal to indulge in a bit of passive possession.

Donegal didn't need to punch holes in the Armagh backline because they'd already punched enough in the opening 13 minutes to effectively win the game.

Donegal done an unbelievable psyche job on Armagh.

They exuded all the confidence and impenetrability of undefeated American welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather.

In the build-up to almost every one of his last five or six defences, many observers giddily tipped the challenger. Shane Mosley was expected to test Mayweather. Teak-tough southpaw Robert Guerrero looked like he had the power and stamina to beat him.

And then there was the big drumbeat for slick Mexican fighter Saul Alvarez. Likewise, Manny Pacquiao.

They all succumbed to Mayweather. Not only did they lose, it was the way they lost.

They were completely deflated opponents long before the final bell.

Each of them obviously reached the stark conclusion midway through their respective fights that theirs was a hopeless cause.

They simply couldn’t find a way to get beyond Mayweather’s defence.

Last Sunday was Armagh's Mayweather experience. They simply didn't know how to respond.

The thing that Mayweather does best is he makes even the best challengers look fairly ordinary.

Armagh looked painfully ordinary last Sunday.

Afterwards, Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney surprised reporters with the statistic that the two teams each had 25 shots.

But there was still a gulf in class.

It was the kind of shots, when the shots came, and how much Donegal took the foot off the pedal in the second half, evidenced by the precautionary substitutions of Eamonn McGee (ankle) and Patrick McBrearty (hamstring), both of whom claimed that they would have played on had the game been still in the balance.

Armagh are better than what they showed last Sunday.

That's the message 'Geezer' will be driving home to his players this week and next.

They can still be playing football in August for a second consecutive summer.

The problem for them last Sunday was that they ran into a Donegal team that have it in their locker to win this year's All-Ireland title.

Some players mightn’t have had the stomach for another intense year under the man who made them - Jim McGuinness.

Training has been tailored more to players' needs and they look fresher as a consequence.

Attack-wise, they look a more confident unit in 2015.

Since McGuinness revolutionised Donegal football, the senior team has always been lauded for its collective talents.

By the end of Gallagher’s tenure, we just might be talking a little more about the individuals within the system and how impossible it would be to bar any of them from entering Gaelic football's Hall of Fame.

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