Choice of ref for Sligo enounter baffles Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney
ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney has raised a quizzical eyebrow about the referee appointment for their round two All-Ireland Qualifier against Sligo.
Sean Hurson of the Galbally club in Tyrone is listed to take charge of the game in Markievicz Park on Saturday June 23, and ‘Geezer’ commented drily: “It’s a Tyrone referee…Good job it’s not a Tyrone manager.”
His point, of course, is that Sligo’s boss is Tyrone native Cathal Corey, which perhaps makes it even more surprising that Hurson has been handed this particular tie.
Asked if he felt that was a “slightly strange” choice, McGeeney replied with a smile: “If you’re going to go on about slightly strange stuff in the GAA we could be here for a while.”
It should be pointed out that, earlier in the conversation McGeeney had said: “Everyone thinks I pick on referees – I don’t. I think most of our referees are very, very good.”
Sligo supporters might well wonder too about an Ulster official taking charge of a match involving a team from the northern province, although the Armagh-Tyrone rivalry is well-known.
In terms of team selection, Armagh will have Niall Grimley available again after serving a one-match ban for his sending off during their Ulster SFC defeat away to eventual finalists Fermanagh.
Defender Paul Hughes and midfielder Stephen Sheridan are close to returns after injury but are unlikely to start, McGeeney hinted:
“They’re still not there yet, it’s going to be touch and go even if they get into training this weekend. Neither of them have played for three months, so you’re taking a risk with them. But they’re quality players so you’re hoping that there might be some chance.”
Meanwhile, Sligo veteran Adrian Marren travels the wild Atlantic Way from Donegal to Kerry in his maintenance job with Tesco stores on the west coast.
He has clocked up a lot of miles with the Yeatsmen too and the 33-year-old Curry clubman has visited almost every footballing outpost on the island during his 14 years in the white and black jersey.
Marren’s career began in 2004, two years after Sligo and Armagh clashed over 140 minutes in a nail-biting All-Ireland quarter-final double-bill at Croke Park and Navan.
The Orchardmen eventually won the replay and went on to win the All-Ireland while Sligo’s sole success since has been a Connacht title in 2007.
In the past two years the counties have met in Division Three - Marren’s late penalty earned Sligo a fortuitous draw last year, but Armagh were far too good in the 2018 rematch.
“We know each other well, so it’s a tough ask,” Marren admitted.
“They gave us a good trimming up there this year and I was impressed with them. They’re big and very physical and it’s a typical Kieran McGeeney team – big and athletic and strong and they move the ball well.
“After that game everybody knew they were going to go up. They were the strongest Division Three team we’d played in a long time.”
He admits that Armagh’s subsequent loss in the Ulster quarter-final came as a surprise, but says the criticism of the Orchardmen was over the top.
“Fermanagh beat Monaghan too and there’s no-one talking about that - they’re not giving out about Monaghan,” he said.
“Armagh seemed to get all the flak and it’s probably not fair because Fermanagh are a good team, they’re well set-up and well drilled and they’re in an Ulster final now.
“But Armagh are after coming back with a good win in Mullingar and we’re after a beating from Galway so we won’t be too long finding out where we are.
“It’s a tough draw. After Tyrone, Armagh are one of the better teams from the North so it’s a tough ask.
“Home advantage is going to be a help and hopefully it might scrape us over the line.”
Marren scored four points when Sligo took on a formidable Galway team managed by his old mentor Kevin Walsh in the Connacht semi-finals. But his effort was one of the few pockets of real resistance as the Tribesmen racked up 4-24 in Salthill.
“Galway had 17 shots in the first half and they scored 16 of them,” he pointed out.
“They only had three wides in the game but on the day they were just at a different level to us – it was Division One football against Division Three football.
“We were confident going up, we thought we were in with a great chance but after 20 minutes the game was over.”
Galway face Roscommon in Sunday’s Connacht final and both will fancy their chances of claiming coveted spots in the Super8s. Marren feels that the gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing.
“I think there’s a Super4 now and then from to 12 is very close and 12 to 25 they are around the same,” he said.
“I think Dublin are getting further away and then there’s two or three catching them. The Dubs don’t look like they’re going to get caught – not this year anyway.”
The man charged with bridging the gap is Tyrone native Cathal Corey. After a difficult start with a team of packed full of rookies, Corey has steadied the ship and Marren admits it took time for the Sligo players to get to grips with his Kildress accent.
“It was hard to work out at the start but we’re got used to the slang they have up in Tyrone now,” he said with a laugh.
“Once we got used to that it was grand. He’s good and he has good lads around him. We have a good management team around us – they kept us in the League and hopefully we can kick on in the Championship.”