Galway have the firepower to gun down McGeeney's Armagh
All-Ireland SFC Qualifier round 2B:
Armagh v Galway (Sunday, 3pm, Athletic Grounds)
TWO MONTHS ago, the Armagh players and supporters feared no one heading into the Ulster Championship but since then, they have been injected with a dose of reality.
Behind closed doors, the Orchard county felt an Ulster title was within their grasp but after a horror show against Donegal and an unconvincing win over Wicklow in the Qualifiers, an anxiety and nervousness has festered among Armagh supporters.
Did the players start to believe their own hype or has the ‘Kieran McGeeney factor’ prematurely worn off?
If the current squad are serious about emerging from the doldrums, they need to answer those questions tomorrow afternoon when Galway come to town.
With less than two weeks gone in July, it’s make or break for McGeeney’s men.
The Orchard county welcome Kevin Walsh’s Tribesmen to the Athletic Grounds with captain Ciaran McKeever and half-back Mark Shields absent front the team sheet although Aaron Findon returns to the line-up after sitting out the win over Wicklow.
Kevin Dyas, meanwhile, will be sidelined for another few weeks after going under the knife to correct a recurring knee problem.
The big news is that Crossmaglen clubman Tony Kernan – who top scored in Armagh’s run to the last eight of the All-Ireland last year – has been dropped to the bench.
Walsh, meanwhile, has made three changes to the side that suffered defeat in the Connacht Championship.
Brian O’Donoghue will replace Manus Breathnach between the sticks while Gareth Bradshaw starts at wing-back in place of Patrick Sweeney. Up front, Peadar Óg Ó Gríofa comes in to the attack at corner-forward instead of Danny Cummins.
Like Armagh, Galway are no longer the powerhouse they once were but they will arrive in the Cathedral City on the back of an encouraging performance against All-Ireland contenders Mayo in their provincial semi-final.
They lost by four points in the end but had Mayo rattled until captain Paul Conroy was black carded.
Earlier in the week, McGeeney was quick to stress that the Tribesmen physically matched Mayo so Walsh’s men won’t be intimidated when the hits are raining down.
In Finian Hanley, they have a ruthless full-back who has represented Ireland in the International Rules Series on four different occasions while corner-back Johnny Duane was a star on the U21 side that won the All-Ireland title in 2011.
Corofin ace Liam Silke is the epitome of a modern day half-back and the 2015 All-Ireland club winner will look to link up with his clubmate Gary Sice down the right hand side – the man who caused endless problems for Slaughtneil in the Croke Park decider on St Patrick’s Day.
Fiontán Ó Curraoin and Tom Flynn– All-Ireland U21 medallists in 2011 and 2013 – have been named at midfield although Flynn is more likely to swap with captain and talisman Conroy, who has been named at number 11.
Despite the absence of star forwards Shane Walsh and Cummins, Galway have more than enough firepower to punish Armagh’s generous defence. Ó Gríofa, Damien Comer and Micéal Lundy will be itching to exploit the chinks Armagh have shown in their defensive armour.
Former Armagh forward Diarmuid Marsden said during the week that the scoring burden needs to be more equally shared within the team and after registering just eight points against Donegal and struggling to shake off a gritty Wicklow outfit, players like Caolan Rafferty, Stefan Campbell, Andy Murnin and Aidan Forker need to chip in with more scores.
Perhaps Clarke has a reluctance to share that scoring burden, though.
In the 65th minute against Wicklow, with just two points separating the sides, Clarke decided to beat three men rather than passing it to Andy Murnin who was free – and screaming for the ball - on the penalty spot.
Armagh finished the game as 10-point winners but ‘Geezer’ knows decision-making can be the difference against stiffer opposition.
“The best people in any sport are the ones that do the basics the best,” said McGeeney. “There are things that separate it after that but simplicity is the key to brilliance in all sports.
“The hard thing is, Jamie can do that [beat three men].
“The thing about sport is always the end result. You don’t want to take creativity away from any player because when the simple stuff is being stopped, the creative stuff can unlock that.
“I just want them to take the right option.
“What that right option is, I’ll leave up to them. Once they cross the white line, they are the ones in charge.”
The incentives tomorrow afternoon are huge. Lose, and Armagh’s season bursts into flames. Win and they can get a run of games over the coming weeks - the quick-fire momentum builder that McGeeney has been craving.
Almost fourteen years ago to the day, McGeeney and Walsh shared the Croke Park turf in Round Three of the All-Ireland Qualifiers as Galway clinched a one-point win en-route to lifting the Sam Maguire.
Neither side currently dines at the top table any more but if Armagh don’t drastically improve their performance, the Orange men will be marching with their tail between their legs once again.
Armagh: M McNeice; A Mallon, C Vernon, J Morgan; M Murray, B Donaghy, S Connell; A Findon, E Rafferty; S Campbell, A Forker, C Rafferty; M McKenna, A Murnin, J Clarke.
Galway: B O’Donoghue; J Duane, F Hanley, C Sweeney; L Silke, G O’Donnell, G Bradshaw; F Ó Curraoin, T Flynn; G Sice, P Conroy, S Denvir; P Óg Ó Gríofa, D Comer, M Lundy.