GAA Football

John Toal happy with Armagh progress while Pete McGrath will consider Fermanagh future

Armagh's stand-in boss John Toal was delighted to see his side get past Fermanagh Picture by Philip Walsh
Kenny Archer and Gareth Cauldwell at the Athletic Grounds

All-Ireland SFC Qualifying round 1B: Armagh 0-20 Fermanagh 0-11

THE Armagh squad was singing loudly last night but they weren’t overly celebrating this victory over Fermanagh, impressive though it was.

A chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ rang out for 34-year-old player Ciaran McKeever but he and his colleagues know this win won’t be worth a candle if they don’t embark on a prolonged summer run.

Stand-in manager John Toal laughed off a suggestion that he could claim this win, rather than the still suspended boss Kieran McGeeney.

Instead, he insisted that this was merely a collective response to their poor performance against Down in the Ulster SFC quarter-final, when ‘Geezer’ was also serving a ban:

“The bottom line is that we're all in it together, so we'll take the wins together and the defeats together too.

“I haven't really been talking to him [McGeeney] yet. We'll get a better chat later and see what he thinks.”

‘Geezer’ would undoubtedly be happy, Armagh having shown much more composure and creativity than against the Mournemen, which was much-needed, the Keady man admitted:

“Our character was questioned - and it’s how you want to respond to that. Boys were deeply disappointed because we’d prepared so well for Down. We had chances in that game which we didn’t take. The best team beat us on the day but we knew there was still a kick in us and we had to come out here and show it tonight.”

Armagh only led by eight points to six at the interval but pulled away in the second period, especially after Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly was sent off in the 58th minute.

“We knew it was our last 35 minutes of Championship football for the year if we didn’t push on; we had that in our heads,” said Toal. “We weren’t going to finish our year, we’ve trained too hard, we didn’t want this to be the end of our year.

“The Down game was such a blow to us because we'd been moving so well going into it, we were in the right frame of mind and it was a knock. But the boys performed in the right manner tonight. Their character was questioned and they answered it.”

Armagh’s approach in attack was better, keeping three inside forwards advanced, but Toal said they’re still working on their system of play:

“It's about getting the balance between the two: you can’t sit back too much and you can’t go gung-ho as well.

“Tonight it worked for us but we still have plenty to work on for whoever we pull out in the draw.”

That will be one of Leitrim, Monaghan, Tipperary, or Westmeath. Although his managerial ‘reign’ will now end after two games, Toal straight-batted like a veteran a question about how far Armagh could go this year:

“We'll look no further than the next game because they are a young team and they're building.”

FERMANAGH manager Pete McGrath says that he will sit down with his management team this week and make a decision on his future.

“I think the management will sit down maybe this week sometime and we'll take a decision about whether we feel we can take this group any further than we have taken them.

“The first season was a getting-to-know-you season and there was no damage done. 2015 was a great odyssey in getting promotion and getting to the All Ireland quarter-final and last year we stayed in Division Two and then had that game against Mayo where we were maybe a bit unfortunate. But this year has just been an annus horribilis, just horrible. You are relegated and you lose two Championship matches each by a margin of nine points, it doesn't get much worse than that so we'll have to look at that,” he said.

Fermanagh had enjoyed a good spell in the first half when five points in a row put them into a 0-5 to 0-2 lead but Armagh took control after that, claiming a two point half time advantage, and they went on to dominate the second period to run out comfortable victors in the end.

“We had a good opening 20 minutes when we went from two down to three up but then they scored five in a row.

“I knew to get anything out of the game we were going to have to play an awful lot better in the second half than we did in the last ten or 15 minutes of the first half because they were dictating the pace and the tempo of the game at the end of the first half.

“In the second half, though Armagh showed more strength, more power, more penetration, more cohesion and we started to struggle in key areas of the field. We had too many attacks that ended up turned over and we were then punished down the other end.

“The longer the second half went on Armagh looked a better team, they were stronger, they were more physical, they were getting through us easier and in the end it was a disappointing performance.

“I think quite a number of our players didn't play anywhere near up to their potential,” stated the Fermanagh manager.


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GAA Football