GAA Football

Declan Bonner gets a pass as defeated Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney nails a few home truths

Donegal and Armagh during Saturday's Ulster semi-final at Kingspan Breffni Park. Armagh couldn't live with the defending provincial champions Picture: Margaret McLaughlin.
From Brendan Crossan at Kingspan Breffni Park

Ulster Senior Football Championship semi-final: Donegal 1-22  Armagh 0-13

A dank, rainy November afternoon in Cavan town. Donegal playing like 2020 All-Ireland champions - and Armagh ready to hibernate for the winter months in the house of pain.

In the fading autumnal light, Declan Bonner climbed the steps of the main stand in Kingspan Breffni Park to meet masked-up press reporters and proceeded to tip a big bag of familiar clichés on the table for our perusal.

We sifted through them but each one was discarded as quickly as they fell.

As bad as Armagh were in Saturday's semi-final, Donegal were absolutely awesome. They have players for all seasons.

Huge. Hearty. Skilful. Powerful. Ruthless.

Forget the Ulster title - three-in-a-row will be negotiated handily enough next weekend. On this form, they'll win the All-Ireland.

In fairness to Bonner, what does a man say after such a fantastic display that had a bit of everything, and especially with an Ulster final just a week away?

So, the well-worn clichés tumbled down the steps as we waited for 'Geezer'.

His was a proper, engaging, no-holds-barred assessment of what unfolded an hour earlier.

Armagh saved their worst performance of 2020 for Saturday's Ulster semi-final.

After a bright start against a stiff breeze, they collapsed in the second quarter. And that was kind of that.

“For the first time this year, I thought we were very, very timid, very meek, didn’t have a go at them. Standing still, soloing the ball. Really disappointing stuff," said McGeeney.

"It was very hard to watch it. It’s not what we trained to do. You don’t mind if we didn’t have the capabilities to go at teams, like in the past, but we do at the minute. That’s probably the most disappointing part.

“We didn’t have a cut at them in the first half. We’d loads of scoring chances, one-on-ones and we didn’t go at them. We'd chances to go at them, we had the players to go at them but we just didn’t do it.”

At half-time, Donegal were a speck in the distance - 1-12 to 0-3 in front. The second half was 0-10 apiece, but an entirely irrelevant affair.

The Armagh manager added: “When you’re playing against quality, you turn off for a second... Consistency is the biggest thing. Consistency involves doing the simple things very well.

"If you are a good team you need to have a go. If you’re not willing to be like [Peadar] Mogan and break that line and take two or three players on you’re always going to have extra defenders in front of you... But scoring two or three points in the first half is criminal."

Despite his acute disappointment, McGeeney accepted the "buck stops with me".

"That’s my job. We’ve one All-Ireland in the bag in 140 years but I do feel we have the players to compete at that level, I genuinely do.

"I know pundits tell you it’s about the cream of the crop. It’s not – you have to commit to something. We’re getting there; we are getting there.

"When you look beneath the surface of any team you’ll see cracks and we have to start plastering those over and get up there.

"As I said to them during the week, it’s time to put the big-boy pants on and step up. Our main players are 28, 29 and I hope they all stick at it because we’re going to need everybody for Division One."

Armagh, summed up by their manager in a nutshell.

As a footnote, after seven-and-a-half minutes of interrogation, we released Declan Bonner from the main stand.

What can the man say? Donegal were brilliant.

Injuries to Stephen McMenamin and to a lesser degree Paul Brennan and Hugh McFadden are Donegal's only concerns.

On a dank, rainy November day in Cavan town, we just might have caught a glimpse of the 2020 All-Ireland champions.

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