Sport

Danny Hughes: It's a long way back for Kieran McGeeney's Armagh

The Armagh side which surrendered meekly to Fermanagh in the Ulster SFC quarter-final

FIFTY per cent of my blood is steeped in south Armagh. I have always admired the county's 2002 All-Ireland winning team and, despite the fact that particular generation of players failed to win another All-Ireland title, I have always considered them a ‘great' team.

Prior to that team coming to fruition, Armagh experienced plenty of bad days. They had been one of many teams never to win an All-Ireland title.

Indeed, throughout the Noughties, Armagh fans, including my football-mad relatives, thought the good times would last forever and those sorrowful days were over.

The Orchardmen were an utter shambles last Saturday and appear to have returned to darker times. Two points from play in 70 minutes is just not acceptable by any standards.

The stark reality, laid bare by a Fermanagh team who are maximising their lot, is that Armagh football is currently in a dire state.

The absence of any Crossmaglen representation on the county panel says as much about the malaise within inter-county football nowadays as it does regarding inter-county footballing ambitions in Armagh.

Crossmaglen is well represented in New York and further afield, with a number of the club's key players travelling and taking time out away from Ireland.

I am sure that Kieran McGeeney never forced this situation upon any of them.

McGeeney is an iconic figure and is the first and only captain of an Armagh All-Ireland-winning team.

He never finished his inter-county playing career in the way he wanted and that happens to many seasoned players, including yours truly.

Contrast the Armagh vibe to the county's neighbours Monaghan. I suppose I admire Malachy O'Rourke's management for his tactical nous, but also for his man management skills.

He has kept faith in the ‘old guard' and managed to keep them all happy, including the likes of Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey and, until last year, Dick Clerkin in whatever capacity or role those individuals play in the team.

It's a sign of the respect he has garnered when you never hear of any discontent in the camp, akin to Dublin under Jim Gavin.

O'Rourke (left) was smart when he allowed players like Clerkin to decide when their time was up and never forced or pushed it upon anyone.

Additionally, O'Rourke has the backing of strong Monaghan support base at all levels. County board level, club level and, most importantly, at supporter level.

McGeeney would enjoy board level support, however, I feel that this is probably where any comparisons end with the Monaghan situation.

For such an iconic figure as a player, there is a fair amount of anti-McGeeney sentiment within Armagh at club level.

The fact that some of the best players are not currently involved, particularly those from Crossmaglen, will always hang heavy over this team and indeed McGeeney's tenure.

This, coupled with a lack of success and that fact that Armagh have failed to win an Ulster Championship match in four years, has also sucked the life out of any large degree of goodwill at supporter level.

When Jim McCorry added last week that this was the most ‘talented bunch' he had ever worked with, it surprised many supporters within and beyond the county.

Two things are possible here if this is the case.

The players are ‘choking' on the big occasions. They could be tigers in a cage at training and pussycats in the jungle on the day of a match. Alternatively, perhaps Jim McCorry is somewhat misguided in his assessment.

I am always very cautious when it comes to praising talent in general. Humble in public and gushing in private would be my approach.

Plenty of observers have had their say on this so-called talented forward line of Armagh's. I just cannot see it. Their talisman, Andrew Murnin, was poor last Saturday, epitomised by his shot in the second half that was hit with the outside of the boot and barely hit the ball stop behind the Fermanagh goal.

Mark Shields, a natural half-back his entire life, played at centre-half forward.

The centre-half forward is your quarterback, the man to pull the strings. When you see equivalents out there such as Fermanagh's Declan McCusker, surely there is a better-suited player for this role?

Aidan Forker, one of the best club forwards in Armagh, has been playing at wing-back.

The team shape and positional formation looked overly-complicated and lacked cohesion.

That, in my view, is a management issue.

From the players' perspective, a lot will be made of the warm weather training camp.

It is brilliant when it bears fruit However, as the result indicated, the players have already let themselves and the management team down in their performance again this year.

There is no excuse when Niall Grimley elbows a player in the face, even though I doubt that him remaining on the pitch would have made much difference to the final result.

There is no excuse for missing 15 scoreable chances and giving the ball away so cheaply.

There is no excuse for indiscipline in the tackle and for conceding so many frees.

Fermanagh, however, played really well and Rory Gallagher has them very well organised. Sure, it might not be the prettiest to watch, but the Ernemen won't care about that.

They have good players everywhere and the return of the enigmatic Seamus Quigley will give Fermanagh a renewed sense of optimism.

Can they beat Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final?

It would be a massive ask , as Monaghan demonstrated last weekend, this is a team who can now cope with the hype.

With Conor McManus on top form and with experience throughout the team, I retain my belief that they will be Ulster champions.

Tyrone will progress in the Qualifiers and, on another day, they could well have won Sunday's match.

However, the loss of a few key men at half-time carried some of the blame.

Tyrone also lost their discipline and not just in Peter Harte's dismissal, which was frustration-borne and nothing more.

When goalkeeper Rory Beggan is so accurate, the continued reckless tackling by Tyrone cost them vital scores at key moments.

Referee David Coldrick didn't have one of his better games, granted, but I don't think you

can blame the official for the result.

When you hear three former Tyrone players criticising Tyrone's approach and style in the lead-up to the match, you begin to think that the veil of discipline synonymous with Harte's tenure is slipping.

I don't think you can blame

Ronan O'Neill for remonstrating with Harte. A substitute being substituted is embarrassing and the indignity is something no player should have to suffer.

Ten years ago, we [Down] beat Tyrone in a replay in a great game, one from which Tyrone would garner the positives before going on to win another All-Ireland title.

The same fate will not repeat itself 10 years on. That was a different Tyrone team, a much better team.

At that time, Monaghan were merely also-rans in the big picture. Not any longer.

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