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Steven McDonnell: Tyrone are still playing catch-up while Armagh are still Mackin hay

Armagh's Ciaran Mackin and Tyrone's Ben McDonnell contest possession during last month's Allianz Football League Division One match at the Athletic Grounds Picture: Philip Walsh.
STEVEN McDONNELL

WHEN Armagh beat Tyrone in the second round of the Allianz Football League, back on February 6, there were plenty of reasons why. Tyrone were just back from a team holiday, they were about four weeks behind Armagh in terms of their preparations, they weren’t picking from a full deck of cards and so on.

Five weeks on from that game and I can’t see much change in the All-Ireland champions, particularly in their fitness levels. They don’t seem to have that pep in their step that we were led to believe five weeks ago that they would have by now.

Their five-point defeat to Dublin could have been a lot more and they now find themselves fighting for survival with two games left to play. They play two teams that are playing for League final spots in Mayo and Kerry and this will just make their task that bit more difficult. However, I have seen it too often with Tyrone in the past, when their backs are to the wall, they tend to produce massive performances and get results and that is exactly what they will have to do to avoid relegation.

There is no denying the quality they have at their disposal, and as current All-Ireland champions, you would not have expected them to be in this position, but that is the beauty of the Allianz Football League, particularly Division One.

Every team can beat one another. Dublin aren’t yet out of the woods either. Their performance against Tyrone was more like what we would expect from Dublin, but there have been a lot of inconsistencies in their game in 2022 and there is no guarantee that they can back up the weekend’s result with another one against Donegal. They are no longer the invincible side they once were and teams playing against them have more belief and confidence that they can get a result.

Donegal need the two points to guarantee their Division One status for 2023 after a disappointing home defeat to Monaghan, which was their first home defeat in 12 years so it will be interesting to see if Donegal have a reaction to that defeat.

Armagh have been very competitive in Division One this campaign, and in difficult conditions with a swirling wind and the rain belting down against Kildare, they produced another good performance to take the two points.

They now have a chance of gaining one of the top two places in the division and if results are determined by their level of work rate, then I’m pretty confident Armagh will be in the mix. They are working hard for each other and when you have that along with the top-quality footballers that they have, then you have a chance in every game.

Kerry will come this weekend with a very strong squad, and that will give a great barometer as to where exactly Armagh are at the minute, but the league table does not lie, and on current form they are a team that nobody would like to come up against.

Armagh have so far had a lot of top performers this year, but I have to mention the impact Ciaran Mackin has had since making the breakthrough into the starting line-up. His energy and work rate are simply phenomenal. He plays box-to-box and without knowing what his running stats are, I would imagine they are outrageous.

A lot of players can put in plenty of miles in a match, but intelligent running is something that is extremely hard to coach. Mackin, however, has that in his locker and I hope it continues. He was like a battering ram on Saturday evening, always prepared to put his body on the line for the benefit of the team, and he reminds me of a mix between two of my ex-Armagh team-mates, John Toal and Kieran Hughes.

*I think it’s time for the GAA to look at the model currently used in rugby union, where the referee explains his decisions to the team captains, and implement the idea on a trial basis. I know it’s not an easy task for any one person to take control of a game, but the inconsistencies with some decisions are leaving fans totally and utterly frustrated.

What warrants a free at one end of the ground, doesn’t warrant it at the other and that is what we are witnessing right now, and it is becoming more of an issue that needs addressed, sooner rather than later. Explaining decisions will generate more respect between officials and players, but the consistency in officiating has got to improve.

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