GAA Football

Leadership deficit in Armagh slowly being filled again: Paul Grimley

Paul Grimley has been full of praise for Rian O'Neill (pictured) and brother Oisin Picture: Philip Walsh

SEVEN years after stepping away from the rigours of management, former Armagh boss Paul Grimley feels his native county have the necessary experience, quality and leadership in their ranks to seize an Ulster final place.

Following their 13-point win over Antrim in their provincial opener and Monaghan’s dismissal of Fermanagh, the pair will battle it out in Newry tomorrow for a place in the August 1 decider.

In terms of Ulster final appearances, Armagh fell off the radar after winning the Anglo-Celt in 2008.

“What happened us around that time was we lost that leadership group quite quickly,” says Grimley.

“We went from maybe seven or eight players down to two or three and it takes an awful lot of time to get that back.

“But you can see players are starting to mature now – and the two O’Neills [Oisin and Rian] are a fantastic example of that.

“The pair of them have been huge assets … Their appetite for hard work has been fantastic and I think this is where Kieran Donaghy has come in.

“As well as being a fantastic full-forward and fantastic player, Donaghy was also a ferocious tackler, and he’s maybe brought that to Oisin and Rian in that you have to work twice as hard to get the ball back, and it’s showing in their performances.

“The ferocity in their tackling and to get the ball back, as well as ‘Soupy’ [Stefan Campbell] and Rory Grugan, is great to see.

“I think it is the best opportunity [for Ulster success] in a while for Armagh because a lot of things have come together. Promotion to Division One was a big confidence-builder and the fact that they stayed in Division One will have enhanced everyone’s confidence.

“Kieran [McGeeney] doesn’t quit either and his organisational skills, motivational and coaching skills are second to none too. And he’s very loyal too.

“But I think the quality of players that have come along over the last 18 months, particularly the two O’Neills, is really encouraging. They’ll be there for the next 10 years and I hope they get success.”

The Pearse Og clubman adds: “The level of concentration of the defence could be better at times, but I think the goalkeeper Blaine Hughes has come on tremendously this year. He’s been through the mill over the last couple of years but he’s come out the other end and is far, far stronger for it. From midfield up the work-rate of the team has been phenomenal.”

An observation made by Paddy Tally recently, who exited Down last week, was the importance of trying to retain a core group of experienced players from year to year.

Grimley echoed similar sentiments and puts Armagh’s inconsistency since 2008 down to the high turnover of players.

“Tipperary and Cavan, of course, won provincial titles last year but a lot of the so-called weaker counties that have been starved of success for so long, their biggest problem is the vast turnover of players.

“Players are not stupid; they look at the plan going forward, they look at the fixtures and they weigh it all up.

“If you look at the top four or five top teams they’ve more or less the same core of six or eight players that has been there for the last 10 years and that means a lot to the county because the new players coming in see the commitment that’s required. Those experienced players bring the new players along more so than the manager.”

While he’ll be cheering on Armagh tomorrow afternoon, Grimley found himself in the unusual situation of plotting their downfall back in 2010 when he assisted Monaghan Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney.

The Farney men hammered Paddy O’Rourke’s Armagh in a first round provincial clash at Casement Park on a 1-18 to 0-9 scoreline, which was another signal of the Orchard County’s demise.

“I loved being involved with Monaghan that year, I loved that dressing-room,” Grimley says.

“Tommy Freeman was still playing at the time and had an excellent game that day.”

Darren Hughes was a surprise choice in goal in that 2010 Ulster duel, while Conor McManus and Freeman caused untold harm to the Armagh defence.

Having handed over the Armagh reins to Kieran McGeeney at the end of the 2014 season, Grimley doesn’t miss the sideline as much as he imagined but is still fascinated by Gaelic football and its trends.

“Supporters see the management and players for an hour-and-a-half on Sunday but they don’t see the other 30 hours that goes into it.

“It is mentally draining…Whether you win or lose, all you can do is just go home and lie down after a game. You’re not fit for anything else…

“But I’ve never got disillusioned with the game, I still enjoy it, I enjoy the counter-attacking teams. I never get down about the standard of play at all.”

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