Danny Hughes: Success is relative and Tyrone and Armagh are making gains despite the doubters
Whatever you think about Tyrone’s chances of an All-Ireland title, you have to admire the county’s ability to reach the quarter-final stage, having reached this point in the competition 14 times in the last 18 seasons.
The ability to absorb a defeat and learn and grow into a competition has created a lasting legacy for the Red Hands.
With a centre of excellence in Garvaghey and continued goodwill from within a thriving Club Tyrone, their county will never be far away in the shake-up come September.
While the statistics refuse to back up the assertion that Tyrone don’t have the forward line to win an All-Ireland, having racked up pretty impressive numbers to date in the Championship, unfortunately the jury will remain out until Tyrone win another All-Ireland title.
The current forward unit will be compared to the great Peter Canavan, Brian McGuigan, Brian Dooher, Owen Mulligan, Stephen O’Neill and Ryan Mellon (man-of-the-match in the 2008 final in my book).
Throw in Sean Cavanagh in his prime for good measure also.
Football has changed, but human nature has not.
There are those who think you are brilliant and there are those who won’t think much of you at all.
This used to bother me, naively might I add, at a much younger age than I am now.
If you are playing or indeed managing at inter-county level you need the skin of a rhino. You never escape criticism and on the flip side, praise is fleeting and momentary at best.
You can understand that the pressure on managers is huge and the criticism now can be particularly vitriolic, especially when the manager sees that his players are giving him and the team everything.
It can be hard for a manager to admit that the players unfortunately just aren’t good enough. You risk dismantling their confidence and indeed possibly losing the support of a changing room. Either way, you won’t last long in the position.
Mickey Harte has lasted in the game because of his ability to deliver three All-Ireland titles in five years. He has also managed to secure Ulster titles along the way and strong National League-winning records.
Despite this perceived authoritarian style (as described by Sean Cavanagh), Harte has always defended the players.
He has never been too scathing either, when he easily could have been.
He has never seemed despondent post-match and has carried an air of positivity, even in the depths of a particularly bad defeat. As a player, I am not sure if people appreciate just how hard this can be.
For a player, football isn’t a matter of life and death, as Bill Shankly was once quoted as saying, it is much more important than that.
That’s as close as I can come to describing what football means to me so, within that context, I can identify with the difficulties of both playing and managing. Just like in any facet of life, people deal with losing and winning in different ways.
Some will rant and rave.
The dummies, the pram and everything else close by will be spat out.
There are those who can allow defeats to pass by. And of course, there are those who will wear their heart of their sleeve and who don’t feel the need to be diplomatic. There is no bulls**t. This is Kieran McGeeney for example.
He has done a decent job with Armagh.
While the Ulster Championship campaigns during his tenure, for numerous reasons, remain a complete enigma, they have always fared well under his management via the Qualifier route.
The same could be said of his tenure in Kildare in terms of the Leinster Championship campaigns.
Again, Armagh are inhibited to a certain degree by the fact that they are currently compared to the great Armagh teams of the last decade who had forwards such as Oisin McConville, Stevie McDonnell, Diarmaid Marsden and Ronan Clarke.
Football nowadays is no different. Forwards win games. I think the Armagh County Board knew that a couple of difficult years lay ahead when they appointed McGeeney initially for a five-year term.
It appears now that this will take longer, but the Super 8s change the dynamic of what success now means for a county team and a county manager.
Financially, it is now in any county’s best interests for this to be a realistic achievement, might I add, even more important than a provincial title itself in some cases.
Tyrone’s achievement this year, in this context, is a positive one, having lost to Monaghan so early on.
Armagh almost joined them too, having safely negotiated a couple of tricky Qualifier rounds, until they fell to the Rossies last weekend.
Again, in the context of an opening game defeat to Fermanagh and the manner of it, you would have to say that Armagh competed well in the Championship since then and had they taken their chances last Saturday could very well have been in the Super 8s.
This will be McGeeney’s biggest disappointment – the fact that they had the chances, however, just didn’t take them. Geezer’s decision now: Can he improve Armagh any further?
Is there any more improvement there to squeeze from the players available to him?
Only he and his players in the squad will know the answer to this. And that goes for all inter-county teams.
Fermanagh, after such a positive Ulster Championship campaign, bowed out of the Championship very meekly having been completely dismantled by Kildare last weekend.
Rory Gallagher has proven an astute tactician as a manager, however, the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same things over and over again and expect a different result.
Fermanagh may argue that they don’t have the players to compete at the top level. However, to put Pete McGrath’s reign in perspective, Fermanagh managed to reach a quarter-final of an All-Ireland SFC two years ago.
Gallagher has had one year only and there is no doubt that in promotion to Division Two and a provincial final appearance, progress has been made. But Gallagher himself will need to fundamentally review his way of playing if Fermanagh are to make any further progress.
It appears that defending and prioritising a defensive system over an attacking philosophy will take you only so far. But as a solution and formula to winning,
it certainly is not that.
This leads nicely into the best mixed playing style outside of the Dublin and Kerry teams.
I like this Galway side and, for that reason, against a much-fancied Kerry team, I predict that they will beat the Kingdom in Croke Park.
They have become more ruthless in defence and hopefully the class available in their forward line should take care of business.