GAA Football

Malfunctioning Armagh can't crack Galway as relegation looms

Armagh's Ethan Rafferty and Galway's Tomo Culhane during Saturday night's clash Picture: Philip Walsh.
From Brendan Crossan at Box-It Athletic Grounds

Allianz National Football League Division One: Armagh 1-6 Galway 1-8

THERE was a deep sense of frustration among the loyal hordes of Armagh fans as they streamed out of the Box-It Athletic Grounds on Saturday night after watching their team stumble to their third defeat in Division One this season.

That same deep frustration was felt by Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney at the final whistle as he made a bee-line for match official David Gough.

And the frustration bubbled during Kieran Donaghy’s post-match briefing at the mouth of the tunnel a good hour after the game had ended.

Galway weren’t overly impressive either even though they eventually banked the points to keep them in the frame for a League final place in what was a rancid spectacle from start to finish.

This new wave football either jars with Armagh’s DNA or they need more practice at it. Whatever the reasons behind their hesitant football of late, it’s clear it’s just not clicking for them and they now have one game left – against arch rivals Tyrone at Healy Park next Sunday – to preserve their top flight status.

It’s clear for all to see that the Orchard men have probably done a thousand walk-through sessions to make themselves defensively better.

Packing their own ’45, Armagh are more savvy at the back than they’ve ever been under ‘Geezer’.

They have a ferocious pendulum that shifts side to side and is brilliant at targeting the man in possession while at the same time shutting down all the spaces. Galway had to work exceptionally hard to squeeze 1-8 out of their hosts – but it was still enough to win a game of few chances.

Armagh’s problem is that they have become almost too patient in their attacking play. In other words, in becoming more defensively sound, they’ve lost something in attack.

That oft-times wonderful, spontaneous, direct football that has made them compulsive viewing for countless years has been rationed in 2023 as they plagiarise how every other Division One team is playing the game.

And, in fairness, the opening exchanges were favouring Armagh. Their football wasn’t setting any pulses races, but the scoreboard was moving sufficiently for them – 1-2 to no score after 22 minutes.

Stefan Campbell pointed in the opening seconds and, after a series of fluffed efforts on Galway’s posts, Callum Cumiskey found his range in the 20th minute before Ethan Rafferty’s long, hopeful punt dropped into the visitors’ net, providing another reminder of Conor Gleeson’s weakness under the high ball.

Galway had to wait 26 minutes to register their first score.

They achieved this by holding possession in and out of Armagh’s ’45 for three-and-a-half minutes, and after a total of 49 passes – mostly hand passes – Johnny Heaney finally split the home side’s posts.

That was a serious amount of energy expended for one score, but at least the Tribesmen were up and running.

“We were four down at half-time [1-4 to 0-3] and the way we were playing you wouldn’t have been too worried because we knew we’d get better,” said Galway manager Padraic Joyce.

“In the second half we just stuck at it. We missed a few chances and then Mattie [Tierney] hit the goal. You might say it was lucky but at least he went in after it... We’ve got a bit of criticism about not closing games out but I thought we were comfortable in the last four or five minutes.”

Ciaran Mackin and Rian O’Neill hit two ‘worldies’ from distance towards the end of the first half, but Armagh could only muster two points in a terrible second period – a tapped over free from Rory Grugan and a stoppage-time point from late substitute Aidan Nugent.

Hardly prolific themselves in between those two scores, Galway hit an unanswered 1-5 between the 44th and 72nd minutes, with Rafferty failing to deal with Shane Walsh’s high, speculative effort from range.

Tierney pounced and at the second attempt tapped the ball into the empty net with two of the six minutes of stoppage-time already played.

Galway’s green flag put them three ahead and it always looked like being enough as the home side huffed and puffed but couldn’t break the Tribesmen down.

Armagh’s second half displays in a few games now have become a public concern.

“It’s probably happened us a few times this year, we haven’t shown up in the second half,” said Armagh assistant Kieran Donaghy.

“It’s something we’ll have to look at as an entire group. Our shot selection was poor in the second half, just our general sloppiness all over the place, conditions were okay… but skills and shot execution overall were poor.

“Maybe it’s something we’re doing as a management team, it’s something we’ll look at internally. The players aren’t going out on the same level [for second halves]. It’s not good enough. That second half against Roscommon wasn’t good enough and against Galway wasn’t good enough. This team is so much better than that.”

While acknowledging Galway boast the best defensive record in the top flight and are “big and powerful and very well coached”, Armagh’s attacking play was still all wrong in the second half.

So many of Armagh’s runs made little sense and served only to clog things up inside Galway's '45.

There was little in the way of runners coming off the shoulder and some Armagh players who’d stitched themselves into Galway’s defensive blanket ended up coming out, taking possession and running away from goal.

“Galway were in the All-Ireland last year and were within a kick of the ball of beating Kerry,” Donaghy added. “We know they’re a good team but we’re as good as them as we showed last year.”

Armagh, though, can still save themselves from the drop against Tyrone next week. Galway's ambitions are a good bit higher.

Armagh: E Rafferty (1-0); B McCambridge, A McKay, A Forker; C Mackin (0-1), G McCabe, J Og Burns; S Campbell (0-1), T Kelly; C Cumiskey (0-1), R Grugan (0-1 free), J McElroy; R O’Neill (0-1), A Murnin, J Duffy Subs: J Hall for C Cumiskey (29), S Sheridan for T Kelly (h/t), C Turbitt for G McCabe (48), R McQuillan for A McKay (53), N Grimley for S Sheridan (58), A Nugent (0-1) for R O’Neill (66)

Yellow cards: C Cumiskey (26), G McCabe (31), A McKay (41), R Grugan (49), S Sheridan (56), A Nugent (76)

Galway: C Gleeson; J McGrath, S Kelly, S Fitzgerald; D McHugh, J Daly, C Hernon; P Conroy (0-1), Paul Kelly; M Tierney (1-0), J Heaney (0-2), J Maher; Patrick Kelly, S Walsh (0-2 frees), C Sweeney (0-1) Subs: R Finnerty for Patrick Kelly (h/t), T Culhane (0-2 marks) for Paul Kelly (43), D O’Flaherty for J Maher (68), B Mannion for C Hernon (71), R Monaghan for J Daly (77)

Yellow cards: M Tierney (11), S Kelly (41), C Hernon (66)

Referee: D Gough (Meath)


Jarlath Og Burns is denied a goal in stoppage-time Picture: Philip Walsh


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