Enda McGinley: Time for Armagh to end losing Ulster streak
MANY a curious outcome can arise from one-off games or events.
When a few things follow a similar trend, you could be looking at pure coincidence and/or unrelated factors somehow combining to produce the same result.
Equally, however, similar outcomes may be down to a consistent internal factor that directly leads to the same outcomes occurring.
Armagh under Kieran McGeeney are facing crunch time.
Whatever of the above reasons it's down to, Armagh have remain empty-handed after four Ulster Championship campaigns.
Anyone involved with the game will know that each match stands on its own as an independent entity with actually minimal effect on what comes before or after.
As one of the many pundits, I am often trying to interpret results or performances in one game to make direct inferences on another.
To spot formlines, trends or behaviour patterns that will somehow allow us to predict what will happen next.
The fact is that, as pundits, and all supporters are their own pundits at the end of the day, our wisdom is always greatest after the event. No matter what we knew beforehand, we don't call the game precisely as it panned out.
If we did, we ignore the blind luck and usually crow about it like the fella who has made the big win on a bet but misses telling anyone about all the other losses.
Stating the fact that Armagh have not won an Ulster Championship game under McGeeney is one thing, taking the inference that this is an internal weakness in the team is a big step from that starting fact.
But when does that curious trend, become a self-fulfilling reality?
When does the failure to achieve something continue to undermine any future attempts to such an extent that it needs addressed and acted upon?
Mayo footballers have dealt with this very issue ad nauseum. The elephant has been in the room, pointed out and addressed, brushed under the carpet again then pointed out and addressed again yet always refused to leave the building.
It merely hides from time to time, before reappearing at the most inopportune moments, like those two own goals in an All-Ireland final.
It's not just football, it's any sport or, in reality, any area of life. Something bad happens twice, and suddenly we connect the dots where maybe there is no connection at all and create a pattern in our minds, which gets to work to become a self-fulfilling trait.
Once upon a time, some fella obviously came into a spot of bother after cutting down a fairy bush and we've been warned about it ever since.
The same goes for whoever moved house on a Saturday, walked under a ladder or any of the other bad-luck charms.
For Armagh, it is a case of wondering whether that fight at the pre-match parade in 2014 when Cavan's star man, Martin Dunne, got injured and missed the game is still casting a shadow.
Armagh went on to win, with the story going that they laid down the marker to Cavan. Well, they haven't won an Ulster Championship game since.
Plenty of Cavan folk would've cursed Armagh on their way home, and maybe one of them curses stuck.
There's likely nothing to it, but you heard it here first and when did the truth get in the way of a good story.
The problem for Armagh and McGeeney is that, because of the results against Donegal in 2015, Cavan gaining revenge in 2016, Down in 2017 and Fermanagh last year, all sorts of inferences are being drawn about the team and management, creating increasing pressure with each passing year. They possibly have been unlucky in that, like this weekend's game against Down, all of those ties, bar the Donegal one, have been away from home, yet they certainly can't say that the draw has been unkind to them.
In all of those games, with the exception of Donegal, they went in as favourites.
Their subsequent Championship fortunes after those defeats, when they reached the latter stages of the Qualifiers and an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2017, as well as their gradual progression up the Leagues, gives a much more accurate representation of the progress under McGeeney's tenure than the black and white figure of Ulster Championship results.
But McGeeney himself was part of an Armagh team who made their name on their dominance of the Ulster Championship.
The current winless run in Ulster will not rest easy, no matter what they say publicly.
Yes, in the series of Championship losses there was occasional lack of luck, some bad calls by referees, some poor basic mistakes and some very good opposition performances to explain them away, but teams create habits of either winning big games or losing them. Armagh at present are losing them.
As a team, they will get their chance of reckoning on Sunday. Again they go in as favourites. Down are under a major rebuild, and while no Paddy Tally team can be written off, Armagh are surely much further along the storied development path that teams appear always on these days.
Undoubtedly they have the talent and preparation, but at some stage, you have to step up to the plate.
Once again, calls or the rub of the green may go against them, in fact in any Championship game they will at some stage or another, but any team must rise to that challenge.
Winners don't look for excuses, that's the losers' job.
On Sunday, the pressure is on Armagh. They have to produce the win. Win, as I expect them to, and they have a decent shout at progression to an Ulster final. Lose and no Cavan curse or run through the back door will disguise the fact that this group just may not have what it takes.