Armagh midfield must improve says coach Peter McDonnell
Eirgrid Ulster U21 Football Championship semi-final: Monaghan v Armagh (Wednesday, 8pm, Páirc Esler)
THEY might have beaten arch-rivals Down by 22 points in their quarter-final, but Armagh U21 boss Peter McDonnell says his side must make vast improvements to overcome Monaghan.
The Orchard men make the short journey to Newry on Wednesday evening to face Ciaran McBride’s side, who had a similarly emphatic-looking win over Fermanagh a fortnight ago.
Armagh blitzed Down with five goals, scoring 4-13 from play, but McDonnell’s concerns lie primarily with their failure to secure the middle of the park in a game they otherwise controlled.
“We learned that performances can be deceptive. There’s an awful lot to our game that could have been better, an awful lot,” said the Armagh boss.
“We were lucky on the night that our shooting boots were on. We would need to improve an awful lot around the midfield area. It is a big concern to us. We won a game virtually having conceded that area. We have good players in that area and they’re going to have to up their performance if they’re going to be fit to compete with Monaghan.
“The breaking ball that we lost, the amount of clean catches around the middle and, overall, the amount of possession we picked up in the middle of the field wouldn’t do at all.”
Monaghan struggled for a while to shake off Fermanagh in their quarter-final, leading by just 0-5 to 0-3 at the break and only really pulling away in the final quarter. Armagh had a scout in the crowd in Inniskeen, as McDonnell says they do for all games where they might come up against the winners. The report came back that there is more to come from Monaghan as well.
“Fermanagh were still in the game at half-time and lacked a wee bit of penetration up front. It was only in the latter stages that it slipped away from them and Monaghan added quite a significant number of scores," he said.
“From time to time, you see peculiar scorelines that very often deflect away from the truth. Monaghan, by all accounts, were okay on the night and could have done a lot better.
“Apparently, we were spectacular on the night [against Down], but the reality is that, in one-third of the field, we weren’t. The fellas must realise that things are not how they were portrayed and, in the cold light of dawn, if they look closely, they’ll see huge room for improvement. We’ve worked hard at trying to improve our game across the whole field, to be fit to compete against Monaghan.”
Armagh, who haven’t won an Ulster U21 title since 2007, remain without injured duo Aaron McKay and Peter Campbell, the latter unlikely to play this year. Despite their ball-winning problems in midfield, Crossmaglen’s Oisin O’Neill had no bother starring from there against Down, hitting 1-5 from play.
The full-forward line of Cathal McKenna, Shane McPartlan and Conor Martin contributed 4-10 between them against Frank Dawson’s porous Mourne men. The strength of Aidan Rushe and Shea Heffron at the heart of their defence will give comfort as they go up against a sharp Monaghan attack.
Conor McCarthy and Barry McGinn were both spared in the seniors’ defeat by Kerry last Sunday, while Ryan McAnespie played the final 25 minutes - impressively so, setting up his side’s goal and grabbing a fine point himself.
McGinn particularly stood out in the win over Fermanagh, while Fearghal McMahon - hero of their Ulster minor winning side of three years ago - is another serious attacking threat.
The experience of a couple of seasons at this level for Kevin Loughran and Mikey Murnaghan solidifies their full-back line. Monaghan have enough quality in enough areas to progress.