GAA Football

Armagh keep on losing games they should win

Armagh’s Jamie Clarke and Roscommon’s Ronan Daly in action during the Allianz Football league Division 2 game between Armagh and Roscommon at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday. Picture by Philip Walsh
From Cahair O'Kane at the Athletic Grounds

Allianz Football League Division Two: Armagh 0-15 Roscommon 3-10

THE seemingly unending theme of Armagh football is to manage not to win games that they should have.

Now in his sixth season in charge, Kieran McGeeney has seen his side squander strong positions in league and championship games no fewer than 12 times.

There have been exceptionally costly events in that realm, most notably when they threw away three league ties in 2017 including a last-day tie with Tipperary that left them languishing another year in Division Three.

On Saturday they outplayed Roscommon for the first 35 minutes and looked in command of the game, not just until the first penalty from Enda Smith, but in the few minutes after it when their brilliant response was three quick unanswered points.

For 35 minutes, they looked solid and well-structured. Callum Cumiskey was operating as the sweeper but then when Armagh attacked, he’d push right up and occupy Roscommon’s sweeper Brian Stack. It caused confusion and headaches for the visitors, and the Crossmaglen man contributed well in attack.

The hosts were easily the better team in the first half.

The issues came once Roscommon changed their own methods. In the first half they’d looked to go through Conor Cox and Ciaran Lennon. The latter had a bit of joy, but the former was tied in knots by the excellent Ryan Kennedy.

Him picking up a needless yellow card early on, and then earning a tick for a rare foul, forced McGeeney’s hand in having to take him off at the break.

Cox had a far better second half and had the power to burn Aaron McKay inside for the third goal, squaring it for Conor Daly to lash home.

Daly’s forays along with those of Sean Mullooly drove the Roscommon charge in the second half. They held wide and overlapped right into the space behind Armagh’s full-back line.

And that was where the hosts really missed Brendan Donaghy. His nose doesn’t need to be offered the scent before it goes hunting.

Roscommon’s three goals all came from a man running hard at the full-back line from out wide and getting in behind them. The cover wasn’t effective enough and Roscommon preyed on it.

The winners ran the ball with greater force in the third quarter and then once they had the lead and sweepers were abandoned, there was more space into which to kick, which they used well late on.

Enda Smith had been kept very quiet by Aidan Forker until he took off on the searing run to create the first penalty, for which Cox was fouled. Smith had much more joy in the second half, dictating more of his side’s play, although he was still fortunate to earn RTÉ’s man of the match award ahead of Cian McKeon.

Ability-wise, Armagh could comfortably contend that they are a business-end team. They just have to learn how to kill a team off.

“Probably the last two or three years we were getting up there,” said McGeeney afterwards.

“It takes time, it always does in Armagh or it seems to, to get those things. Even with our own team [he played on], we were four or five years knocking at the door before we were actually able to do it.

“These fellas here I think are beginning to get there. Yeah it is disappointing, but I don’t want to take away from Roscommon, they have been up and down from Division One and they are quality.

“I think we are able to live with teams like that, but we just have to get a wee bit better if we are going to try and get that step up.”

Cavan’s loss to Kildare means that Armagh will still go to Clare this weekend with their fate in their own hands. Win and they will play Division One football for the first time since 2012.

That was one of a few positives to come out of a night that, for 35 minutes, suggested Armagh were the side ready to leap first ahead of Anthony Cunningham’s side.

It wasn’t a dead loss for Armagh. The two O’Neill brothers were superb going forward, kicking nine of their side’s 15 points between them. Choose between Oisin’s off-balance strike or Rian’s curling beauty from the wrong side just before half-time for the score of the night.

Kennedy caught the eye and will have moved right up the pecking order in terms of man-marking options, though taking Aidan Forker out to centre-back robbed them of a small bit of solidity that he’s brought since moving to full-back.

They need Donaghy back in the sweeping role to protect the centre of the goal, which they’d had numbers around early on but was more exposed as the game went on and legs tired.

Dropping so deep did take a punch out of Armagh’s counter-attacking and they carried no real goal threat of their own, yet they’ll have gone away feeling that it’s one that got away. Again.

MATCH STATS
Armagh: B Hughes; R Kennedy, P Burns; C Cumiskey (0-1 mark); C O’Neill, A Forker, J Morgan, R Grugan (0-3, 0-2 frees); N Grimley, O O’Neill (0-4, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark), M Shields, S Campbell, J Clarke (0-1); R O’Neill (0-5, 0-3 frees), C Turbitt (0-1)
Subs: A McKay for Kennedy (HT), J Óg Burns for Turbitt (47), P Hughes for O’Neill (53), J McElroy for Campbell (57), J Hall for Cumiskey (63)
Yellow cards: R Kennedy (10), J Morgan (33), O O’Neill (35), R O’Neill (47, 73), R Grugan (69)
Red card: R O’Neill (73, second yellow)

Roscommon: C Lavin; C Daly (1-1), S Mullooly; B Stack; N Daly, D Murray, R Daly, N Kilroy; T O’Rourke, C Compton; C McKeon (0-3, 0-1 free), E Smith (2-0 pens), C Cregg; C Lennon (0-1), C Cox (0-5, 0-4 frees)
Subs: C Murtagh for C Cregg (43), C Devaney for Kilroy (43), C Hussey for C Daly (51), S Killoran for O’Rourke (59), E Nolan for Compton (63)
Yellow card: N Daly (61)
Black card: B Stack (76)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)

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