Steven McDonnell: Armagh need to give attention to more pressing matters
ULSTER counties made a positive start to the Allianz Football League with six of them recording wins.
Looking over all the divisions, for games being played at the end of January, there were some decent performances and overall, we saw an average of just over 14 points being scored per team.
For the time of year, this is not too bad but when the weather improves, and the ground starts to harden, you would hope for these figures to rise.
I made the short journey to Castleblayney to take in the Armagh v Monaghan match, and while I am delighted with the result from an Armagh point of view, both camps will know that they have a lot of things to work on and to improve on in the coming weeks.
The first half was not Armagh’s finest 35 minutes of football ever but for the first 10 minutes of the second half, they came out and pressurised Monaghan all over the field to dominate and to take a six-point lead. This shows the capability of this Armagh team, but the next 15 minutes, also showed their vulnerable side.
At the start of the second half, Rory Beggan was under severe pressure with his kickouts because Armagh pressed them hard and cut out clear cut opportunities for them to win first phase ball, but for some reason, this tactic only seemed to last when they had this period of dominance.
Conceding kickouts to Monaghan allowed them to work the ball up the field and this assisted them in getting back into the game. Possession in the modern game is critical, and I like when a team presses kickouts more often than not, but like anything, its always a lot easier writing about these scenarios than it is on the sideline making the big calls.
However, I saw how effective the press was for Armagh during their dominant spell and I would love to see more of it.
The result though was all that mattered and with some very important players still to come back into the set-up, the overall depth of the Armagh squad is encouraging.
Finding the right balance to get the most out of this squad will be the hard part and Kieran McGeeney, along with his management team will be mulling over this extensively throughout the national league.
As expected, Down and Derry both won their games and winning is becoming more of a habit for Derry nowadays.
When they have that type of mindset, they will once again be a force to be reckoned with. The bookmakers very rarely get it wrong and most have placed Derry as the front-runners to win the Ulster title this year but given the level of competition, with the possibility of a resurgent Down and maybe Armagh giving it a push also, it will be even more of a minefield that what it normally is, which for the best provincial title to win, is saying something.
I was surprised to see Tyrone beaten by Roscommon. There has been a lot of talk and an acceptance from the players that last year was nowhere near good enough given the high standards they set for themselves, so that in itself made me believe that they would actually have won this game at ease.
It’s not being disrespectful to Roscommon because they did deserve to win the match, but on their day, Tyrone are a better team and most people will agree with that.
It’s early in Colm O’Rourke’s reign in Meath but on the evidence of their performance against Cork at the weekend, there were signs that he certainly wants them kicking the ball a lot more which was the platform to their successful years in the 80s and 90s.
Plenty of balls went astray but I always say the faster the ball moves into the full forward line, the greater chances your team have of winning a game and by playing with this style, it got them an important two points away from home.
It goes to show that kicking is still the most important skill in our game and it should be encouraged more than what it currently is.
Onto the hot topic that has hit the headlines over the last two weeks, the Glen v Kilmacud saga. My take on this is that the GAA should have taken responsibility from the offset and played by the rules that they have set.
They showed no leadership on this matter whatsoever and by passing the responsibility onto the two clubs, looks bad on our organisation as a whole.
The decision for Glen should have been made easy and I can understand Kilmacud’s reasoning to object to Glen’s appeal but for the fairness of sport and sportsmanship, a replay should have been called by the GAA at the earliest possible date. All-Ireland finals should never be decided by a clear breach of the rules as was the case here.