Armagh boss McGeeney hails quality of modern football
NOSTALGIA isn't what it used to be - Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney insists that modern-day football is far more skilful than even in his heyday of the Nineties and 2000s.
The Orchard County's All-Ireland winning captain from 2002 was a classy centre half-back but he was self-deprecating about his own ability in comparison to that of many present-day players:
"The game has changed a lot, nearly everybody's a footballer now. Back in our day they only started counting footballers from about 12 up." Reminded of his brief time being moved to the number 15 jersey and given a roving role, he quipped: "They regretted that one.
"It's definitely a different ball game now. You hear a lot of people going on about 'It isn't the same as it used to be…' and they're right - it's way, way more skilful.
"The level of skill of boys nowadays… if you just have an athlete on the pitch now he stands out a mile. You have to have so much in your locker now to be able to compete at the top level.
"It's great watching it, that type of football. When you make mistakes, especially in Division One, that whole idea of giving up possession is key to the game. Giving fellas with pace on other teams counter-attacking options - they can put your lights out in four or five minutes if you're not careful."
One player who is definitely an athlete but also has the full package of skill too is Rian O'Neill, who has again been impressing at full-forward for Armagh.
McGeeney believes that the Crossmaglen lad should have joined his brother Oisin as an Allstar nominee last year given his performances in League and especially Championship, commenting:
"It's funny how, depending on where you are in the country, you get more nudges towards those things than you do from other areas…
"Rian's a special player. I think the most special aspect of him is that he works. There's a lot of players that think they're too good to work; he's not like that.
"The best players over the last 20 years have all had that in their locker, from [Anthony] Tohill to [Peter] Canavan, Darragh O Se. Although they were very good, they were the hardest workers on the pitch as well."
Armagh are an industrious outfit but McGeeney knows they'll need inspiration as well as inspiration to take anything from their testing start to Division One:
"Dublin at the start of the League is going to be a massive test for us. Dublin at Croke Park is the pinnacle for every team at the minute, and then the All-Ireland Champions [Tyrone] after that. We know those seven days of football will give us a good barometer of where we stand."
Armagh had a good McKenna Cup, beating Cavan and Tyrone before losing out to Monaghan in the semi-finals. Even though McGeeney ran the rule over plenty of players, he'd like to have seen more, as he explained:
"We got a chance to see some players but with the tail-end of the club season going into the county season, a lot of the ones you want to look at are all carrying injuries, so it's hard to get them in for a pre-season and give them a fair chance to show their football.
"Sometimes what happens, with a lot of the club players coming in, is they're way behind with fitness and strength and then they don't actually get a chance to show their true worth."
Still, the Orchard County look like they have assembled a strong squad, and McGeeney is optimistic that they have the depth to stay up in the top flight again:
"We hope so. A lot of fellas are carrying wee knocks, we were trying to watch them ahead of the Dublin game, while also getting our patterns of play on the pitch. We all know January and February is the busiest time for Gaelic footballers and we're trying to establish a regular team, so it's that balancing act."