Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney is looking to put best foot forward in 2017
ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney is going into his third season of a five-year term and he is determined to get his best team on the pitch this season.
With the return of Jamie Clarke, James Morgan, Paul Hughes and Andrew Murnin and players such as Kevin Dyas and captain Ciaran McKeever expected to return to action in March, the Orchard’s garden is looking somewhat rosier than last year. But it is McGeeney’s ambition to form a settled team before the Ulster Championship clash with rivals Down on June 4.
“Our biggest thing this year is probably getting our best players on the pitch at the one time and try and give the team a chance to play games together,” said McGeeney.
“That, ultimately, is what we will be looking for. We took a huge dip in players. There is not much point in saying any different. They were a huge calibre of players. The likes of Andrew Murnin, Jamie Clarke, Caolan Rafferty, Aaron Kernan, Finnian Moriarty, all of those players were gone in one go. And for seven or eight players, to replace them is a tough ask, it is not impossible and maybe somebody else could have done a better job than me. But it is a tough ask for team like Armagh to replace players of that calibre.”
The Armagh manager admitted that he made mistakes last season and that a stretched panel contributed to opening National League defeats to Meath and Laois but importantly he has changed tact and the Orchard boss believes he has the right mix of committed players now.
“Again mistakes that I made and not the players, we ended up with not enough cover for defenders and we ended up playing forwards in defence and things like that,” McGeeney said.
“There are times you are trying to keep a tighter panel because you are only allowed to have so many but then that can restrict you. But this year, we are trying to keep a bigger panel but that costs and we are not like other teams, we don’t have those resources.
“The big thing is I think we have a bunch of fellas who want to represent Armagh and want to train to represent Armagh and when you have that you have a fighting chance. I might have to fight to get players in but when you have to fight to push players away, then you know are going in the right direction.”
McGeeney acknowledges Armagh may not have the financial clout of Dublin or Mayo, but he feels it is the commitment of the footballers that permits them to dominate the top table of GAA: “People talk about the likes of Dublin and their finances and their resources,” said the Armagh manager.
“They get to spend weekends in hotels and things like that. But that is still commitment. It is a big ask to expect a player to come to you on a Friday afternoon and stay until a Sunday. That takes a hell of a commitment and I think sometimes that is overlooked about Dublin and Mayo. Those boys have gone the extra step.
“Kerry have always done it. They tell you they don’t and pretend to be so laid back but they train hard and give it loads. When Pat Gilroy came in and took in players such as James McCarthy and Paul Flynn, I was in Dublin at the time and people were asking who are these boys?
“They weren’t considered superstars. But it was the way they trained and the way they worked. Even Dairmuid Connolly, people don’t give the fella credit. The man is a supreme athlete, but he hasn’t become a supreme athlete sitting on his arse watching TV.
"He trains hard as well as being good and maybe that is why he is so good.”