Armagh victory does nothing to quieten fears over gap from top to bottom
A SPIRITED, organised Antrim threw absolutely everything they had at Armagh, who failed to ignite for long periods yet still scored 4-15 and won by 13 points.
That’s just about where it’s at in terms of the gap from top to bottom in Gaelic football.
Nothing in the debate over the top tier against the rest will have been hushed in the Athletic Grounds, where the lack of hush from 1,700 spectators made it feel something like summer.
The majority of them were feeling riddled with nerves at half-time, Ruairi McCann’s effort having just been turned away by the boot of Blaine Hughes to preserve Armagh’s two-point lead against an Antrim side that was not only hanging in, but dictating all the terms.
By the end, Enda McGinley’s men had simply run out of legs. The gap in conditioning was evident, which is a huge factor in why the football championship’s scorelines have been so lopsided.
“My own opinion is I would differ from some of the boys in there,” said McGinley when the inevitable was asked, his eyes bloodshot red as though he’d just lost an All-Ireland final.
“I think teams at that level have been pretty strong in their opinion that they don’t want it. I still think that there is an argument for it and that is not our choice, people will read into it how it is.
“I think if we enclose completely the top eight teams together, them battering off each other the whole time, their standards will just rise and rise.
“On the one hand yes, more competitive games would be good. But siphoning off the smaller teams completely from the top teams means that gap only ever increases.
“I think we need to merge the top teams with a greater cohort from a second division, that allows that gap to start bridging and allows the bigger teams to not meet top quality teams constantly.”
The Armagh players had, Rory Grugan revealed, been met by an angry management at half-time.
“I thought I was very calm,” smiled Kieran McGeeney.
They were vastly improved in the second half, though a fair bit of that was down to Antrim’s growing tiredness and inability to keep on punching the holes.
The dynamic of Armagh’s semi-final against Monaghan in two weeks’ time does pivot on the likelihood that Conor McManus will miss out, having left Clones on crutches on Saturday afternoon.
Not that McGeeney was buying that argument.
“It’s funny, there are those talisman type of players but it depends where they play and what they do.
“McManus is easily one of the top three forwards over the last 10 years, but the way the Monaghan boys have been changing and shifting, they definitely have [replacements].
“A bit like us and Mark Shields or Aidan, fellas like that you thought you couldn’t do without, you just have to and sometimes others get more ball than they’re used to, whether that’s Jack McCarron or McCarthy or O’Hanlon.
“I wouldn’t be writing off Conor now, I’ve seen him up close, he’s a tough boy.”