GAA Football

Armagh could accept Down defeat for 'Super 8s' place - Kieran McGeeney

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney is more concerned with reaching the 'Super Eights' than progress in the Ulster SFC.
Pic: Seamus Loughran

ARMAGH boss Kieran McGeeney admits he would accept an Ulster Championship defeat against Down as long as his team go on to reach the ‘Super Eights’.

`Geezer’ has (in)famously failed to win any of his four provincial matches in charge of the Orchard men, including a loss to Down in 2017, but maintains he’s not bothered about that particular record:

“There’s a lot made of me winning an Ulster Championship match but it’s not about me, it’s about them [the players].

“And, to be honest, if we lost against Down and got to the ‘Super Eights’, I’d settle for that.”

Armagh have made a superb start to this season, thrashing both St Mary’s and Antrim by a cumulative 39 points in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, but he knows the games coming up will be much tougher.

Monaghan are the visitors to the Athletic Grounds tomorrow night in round three of the pre-season competition but McGeeney is more concerned with the bigger picture this year – and indeed in years to come, saying:

“You want to stay in Division Two and then push on and try to get a run in the Championship. You’d love to try to push for the ‘Super Eights’…

“The whole thing is about playing against the top teams and improving. The team has been steadily improving and that is the curve you want to be on.

“Whether they cross the line under my tenure or somebody else’s, that’s irrelevant – as long as they keep going in the right direction. What I’m looking for is just progress.”

Armagh certainly appear to be achieving that, having scored 8-38 in their two outings so far, but they’ve impressed early on before and failed to build on that.

However, McGeeney is happy about the options available to him, especially in attack, with Stefan Campbell and Jamie Clarke involved again, and Jack Grugan called up after impressing in the club championship with Ballymacnab - but none of them assured of a starting slot:

“It’s great to have – ‘Soupy’ is pushing hard, he knows Andrew Murnin is just back from his travels, Ethan [Rafferty] is coming to the end of his rehab as well, and you’ve Rian [O’Neill] there pushing hard in training, he’s really putting it in since he came in the last couple of weeks.

“Oisin O’Neill just has a bit of an op to do, but he’s waiting in the wings too. They know there are people looking for their number, which is a good thing to have.”

There’s little doubt that Armagh have plenty of talent, the task is to maximise it, and despite showing up well physically against Antrim on Sunday, McGeeney says they have to travel further along that road:

“I often get the praise for our players’ fitness and I’ve nothing to do with it, Julie [Davis] does all that sort of stuff. But we’re still playing catch-up on some of the top teams: when you look at Dublin, Mayo, and Tyrone, they’re really physically very strong and very fit.

“We’re getting there, but it’s been a process with this team. We’re still just out of the third division and we still have a long way to go.”

The next step is hosting Monaghan and one defender may not be risked in that match, with James Morgan taken off late on against the Saffrons, as McGeeney explained: “He hurt his knee; with games coming up, he just said he couldn’t turn right on it, so we just took him off”.

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