GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Armagh attacking ambition will take them closer to their targets

The return of Jamie Clarke is symbolic of Armagh's attacking intent this season
Picture by Séamus Loughran

I WASN’T very good when I tried my hand at clay-pigeon shooting; even using a rifle didn’t improve matters much.

The title of this column is entirely inappropriate in that regard. I couldn’t get my head – or my eyes – around the concept of aiming ahead or above where I was expected to hit the target.

I still wonder about setting sights too high, surmising that it can only lead to disappointment. Yet hope springs eternal at the start of any, indeed every, year – especially in sport.

Most supporters, managers, and players will subscribe more to the school of thought that says ‘Aim for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’

They’ll try to ignore those little voices whispering ‘If you want the moon, should you be satisfied with a mere star?’, or suggesting that you might not land anywhere other than crashing back down to Earth with a big bump.

Increasingly, players and managers are reluctant to put the targets they set during pre-season into the public domain, perhaps for fear of ridicule if they ‘fail’ to reach them later in the year.

However, Armagh’s Aidan Forker was happy to acknowledge that they are aiming to register 17, 18, even 19 scores per game. Former Armagh joint-manager Brian Canavan once propounded the theory that a team generally needed to score 17 points, or the equivalent in goals and points, in order to win most football matches in Croke Park.

That is where Forker and Armagh want to be, where they want to be winning games. The current Armagh boss, Kieran McGeeney, has also voiced their desire to score more, which is easier said than done.

Neither Forker nor McGeeney will indulge in ‘head in the clouds’ optimism. Their ambition is tempered with realism, even severe self-criticism. On Sunday, Armagh registered a tally of 2-19, 2-15 from play, with 11 different scorers – and just eight points conceded in a 16-point victory.

Plenty to be pleased about, or so you’d think. Forker, who captained the side in the absence of Ciaran McKeever last year and has alternated the role with Rory Grugan recently, was generally positive, but still found room for improvement, saying: “I know it’s a college team, but we did all the right things, bar a few silly errors; we could have actually conceded a wee bit less…

“I’m probably guilty myself of forcing passes, forcing things that aren’t on. You need a wee bit of patience, game-smarts.”

McGeeney also demanded improvement in attack, understandably as Armagh went 20 minutes without scoring after an early opening point:
“Queen’s were quite resolute in the first 20 minutes but I would have been just a wee bit disappointed in our patience – we tried to squeeze passes through that just weren’t on, which gave them the chance to counter.”

He even pointed – albeit somewhat reluctantly - to an error made by man-of-the-match Forker, recalling: “When we did start to pull away – being hard on Aidan here, because he had a fantastic game – but he dropped a kick-out, then Paddy [Morrison] had a bad one, to give them a glimpse before half-time.”

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney is aiming for his team to score more this season
Picture by Philip Walsh

Clearly both men are perfectionists, which is fine, even admirable, as long as it doesn’t lead to negativity, to a stifling fear of making mistakes. That’s a criticism that could have been levelled at Armagh over the past couple of seasons, but their attitude appears to be changing this year.

McGeeney did also pour praise on Forker post-match on Sunday, saying: “Aidan, I thought, was exceptional, in the first half especially, in terms of breaking down their defence on that left-hand side; he really brought the game to them.”

Another player may personify a more balanced mindset around Armagh. Perhaps there was too much focus on Jamie Clarke in the past, but his return to the Orchard county senior set-up is symbolic of a more positive approach.

Clarke is an instinctive attacker, a lethal finisher, but one who needs to stay near the opposition goals rather than tracking back deep into his own defence.

Sure, Stefan Campbell stepped up in Clarke’s absence to become Armagh’s main scorer, but there’s no reason they both shouldn’t start for the Orchard county.

In fact, the pair would pose problems for most defences, as long as they receive a sufficient supply of decent ball. As long as neither is deployed as part of the ‘middle eight’ that both McGeeney and Forker talked about at the weekend, they will get you plenty of scores.

Indeed Jamie and Campbell should surely be part of an ambitious, attacking ‘front three’ for Armagh. Augment Campbell and Clarke with another out-and-out attacker, perhaps Andy Murnin when he’s fit again, or the lively Oisin Mac Iomhair, even the versatile Ethan Rafferty as a target man full-forward, a role he played on Sunday against Queen’s, scoring 1-1 from play.

Back the front three up with runners from deeper positions, such as Forker and his brother Stefan, the ever-improving Rory Grugan, maybe young Oisin O’Neill, and the quality of Kevin Dyas if he can overcome his injury problems, and it’s clear that Armagh have an array of attacking talent.

Obviously it’s very early in the year, as both McGeeney and Forker quickly pointed out at the weekend, but Armagh have averaged 18 scores per game between the O Fiaich and McKenna Cups, and two goals in each match to boot (2-20, 2-13, 2-12, and 2-19).

Old rivals Down may be able to reduce that scoring rate tonight, in the McKenna Cup, and it will be hard for Armagh to maintain it over the year, even in Division Three of the League.

Still, it’s better to be ambitious and, even if they don’t smash clay this year, Armagh may ‘break some Delft’, as the saying goes, sooner rather than later.

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