Rory Gallagher delighted as Fermanagh finally over the line against 'higher-ranked' opponent
PERHAPS the biggest surprise was that Rory Gallagher had any voice left to talk to the waiting press in the minutes after Fermanagh had stunned Armagh at a balmy Brewster Park on Saturday night.
The former Erne forward barely stopped barking instructions to his boys in green for the 78-odd minutes of attritional warfare, and when he couldn’t get word out assistant Ryan McMenamin was hastily dispatched here, there and everywhere to relay the manager’s message.
Intrigue posed by Gallagher versus McGeeney was a key feature of the pre-match narrative but, in the end, there was only one winner in the battle of the sideline.
Fermanagh got their game-plan spot on, looked defensively solid and took most of the chances that came their way, amassing seven wides to 16 for Armagh. And, as he stood against the wall outside the Brewster Park changing rooms, Gallagher wore the wide smile of a man satisfied with a job well done.
“I am delighted for these players,” he said.
“There is one line that was sticking out at the start of the year - they hadn't beaten a team that was ranked above them as such.
“Eoin Donnelly, Paul, Decky [McCusker], Che, Lee [Cullen], Kane Connor, Conall, Ryan [Jones], they are playing a long time and they had nothing to show for it against a higher-ranked team.
“They feel they have not been successful enough in Championship and that is one thing we said at the start of the year - we need to beat Armagh in the Ulster Championship and whatever happens after that, we move on.
“We felt last year teams were getting scores far too easy against us, so that was one thing we wanted to tighten up.”
The counties had already met twice in the spring months, with the Orchardmen holding the upper hand after a 0-7 each draw in Enniskillen during the League before claiming a two-point win in the Division Three final.
But the Ernemen produced a performance of control on Saturday night, their poise and patience making life extremely difficult for Armagh throughout.
“That's probably one of the most pleasing things was the control of the ball,” added Gallagher.
“We were probably smarter than we have been than at any stage of the year, we didn't hand Armagh the initiative at any stage. But it's a fine line. You have got to control the ball but you have to probe as well.”
And asked whether he was glad to be back in his native county, the former Donegal boss smiled before responding: “Glad today anyway - there were days coming up the road I wasn't so sure!”
For McGeeney, meanwhile, it is back to the drawing board. Armagh have now drawn a blank in the Ulster Championship in each of his four years, Saturday’s defeat coming after exits previous exits to Donegal, Cavan and Down.
And while the Orchard boss acknowledged that Fermanagh had executed their game-plan to greater effect, he felt his men had also been architects of their own downfall,
He said: “We were just poor - there’s not much point in saying anything else.
“I thought we were ready for it, well prepared but it was just a different team that showed up, We would have expected Fermanagh to score 10 or 12 points against us but we would’ve expected to score more. We just couldn’t seem to get our scoring boots going at all.
“It was just exactly what I thought [from Fermanagh]. They were going to play the three fellas inside, they run at you, they get frees, just what they did the last time.
“Just today it looked like we were rudderless up front – we missed frees, we missed easy shots in front of goals, even in the second half against the breeze when we got a wee bit more fluidity going, we couldn’t seem to get the scores. It was just a bad day at the office.”
“You have to show up on the day and that’s where the buck stops with me that they haven’t been able to do that,” added the Mullaghbawn man.
“It’s four years now. We’ve done okay, over this last two years we’ve definitely shown signs of improvement, but we’d definitely be disappointed today with that performance. But that’s my job to get them ready.”
The sending off of Niall Grimley less than a minute after the break was a huge moment in the match, and McGeeney had no complaints.
“He lifted his arm so… by the letter of the law,” said the Orchard boss.