Geezer sweating on the fitness of trio ahead of Galway
ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney is sweating on the fitness of captain Ciaran McKeever, midfielder Aaron Findon and half-back Mark Shields ahead of this Sunday’s Round 2B Qualifier against Galway at the Athletic Grounds (3pm).
The Orchard county trio have returned to training although Kevin Dyas is still a few weeks away from full fitness after undergoing a minor knee operation last week.
Findon and McKeever would give Armagh an added physical edge against Kevin Walsh’s powerful Tribesmen while Shields undoubtedly provides an extra dimension going forward.
Speaking at the Armagh City Hotel yesterday morning, McGeeney said:
“The Qualifier route is a very uneven route.
“You don’t get as much time to prepare, whereas if you go through the front door, you have a couple of weeks and you have more time to look into the opposition.
“It’s always hard to get back to where we were before the Donegal game but you need a couple of games in the Qualifers to do that so we are still on that path.
“It was probably the toughest draw we could have got.
“Galway pushed Mayo very hard and they are always a handful.
“They play attacking football and they were very strong against Mayo.
“He [Kevin Walsh] is a shrewd operator so they will be well prepared.
“It would probably be fair to say that whoever comes through our game will have a bit of a springboard. The draw on our side this year is heavily loaded with stronger teams.
“They are physically very strong throughout the team and Galway would be known for their attacking from the half-back line so he definitely has a lot of cards to play.
“If he tells you what he’s going to do, give me a shout,” he laughed.
The Orchard county defence has leaked two goals in each of their Championship encounters against Donegal and Wicklow.
Three of those goals came as a result of high balls into the full-back line and the Mullaghbawn man believes Armagh’s defensive unit needs to be on red alert against the attacking quartet of Gary Sice, target man Damien Comer, Danny Cummins and Michéal Lundy.
“Yeah, [we have conceded] very soft goals and even the fourth one [against Wicklow], we didn’t sweep it away,” he said.
“You’d have liked to see Charlie [Vernon] half-volley that away.
“When somebody is wrestling with you and you can get a foot to it, you’re better just getting it out.
“People will probably see that as a weakness of ours - that we haven’t been able to deal with high ball.
“They have cost us dearly - from being competitive in the first game to closing out the second one a lot quicker.
“For me, it’s sloppy but the fellas know that themselves. Nine times out of 10 they would clear that away but we haven’t done that when it counted so we need to tidy it up.”
McGeeney also says his side’s accuracy in front of the posts must improve if they are to build on last year’s run impressive to the All-Ireland quarter-finals. The Orchard County scored just eight points against Donegal last month and struggled to shake off a dogged Wicklow side until Jamie Clarke notched two late goals.
“I suppose Croke Park is every manager’s benchmark,” he said.
“That’s what you’re looking to get.
“We said it from the word go but it’s very difficult to get there from Division Three and that’s just a reality. It’s not a cliché or said to take pressure off myself.
“Against Donegal, my biggest feeling for us would be that we weren’t converting scores.
“You aren’t going to live with any team unless you’re up around the 16 point mark, especially first Division teams.
“If you’re hitting 12 or 13 scores and relying on goals to get you up there, you’re always going to be in trouble because one day those goals just won’t fall for you.
“All the top teams - whether it’s Dublin, Cork, Kerry – are all able to hit that 15 point mark with point-kicking and after that, the goals give the icing on the cake.
“You’re always in a game when you can hit those scores. We scored three points in the first half against Donegal.
“Sure you’re not going to be in the game. If we were hitting what we normally hit – seven or eight in a half – you could have said at half-time ‘There’s five points in it. We’re still in a game. We’re in with a chance’.
“I think that’s what Armagh’s number one goal has to be - keeping the scoreboard ticking over.
“When you are, you can be competitive and we have the players to do that. But we have to make more of our chances.”