ARMAGH haven’t “scratched the surface” of their potential yet, said a crestfallen Ethan Rafferty after the Orchardmen were squeezed out of Division One on Sunday.
Kieran McGeeney’s men left it too late to produce their best whistle-to-whistle performance of the season and their two point loss, coupled with indomitable Monaghan’s win against an albeit much-changed Mayo side meant they were relegated after three seasons of top flight football.
Armagh scored 16 points but their wide count was heading for double-figures in Omagh and that was a luxury they couldn’t afford.
“In parts it was (our best performance of the season) but in the first half we kicked six wides,” said Grange clubman Rafferty.
“That’s not really the standard we hold ourselves to. Last week against Galway, the second half was brutal so we had to improve on it. It was good to see an improvement but at the same time we still haven’t scratched the surface yet. We have to knuckle down and focus, we have two weeks’ to get ready for Antrim and we’ll take it from there.”
It’s asking a lot for Armagh to put relegation behind them quickly but they should at least have a stronger squad by April 8. Midfielder Niall Grimley started against Tyrone and Aidan Nugent returned from injury as did Ben Crealey although he didn’t feature in the game. Rafferty hopes that Armagh can move on and, with a fully-fit squad, give a better account of themselves in the Championship.
Last year they were sent tumbling out of Ulster by Donegal but the Orchardmen recovered in the Qualifiers to avenge that defeat and also beat Tyrone. In the end, eventual finalists Galway ended their run after an All-Ireland quarter-final penalty shoot-out. Can Armagh gather themselves again for another push?
“It (relegation) is going to be annoying,” said Rafferty.
“Look, it was in our own hands all year so really we’ve put ourselves in this situation and we really have to regroup and look at it ourselves and improve from here.
“It’ll be hard to get over it but what’s done is done, you can’t look at the past so we’ll try and look forward and look towards Antrim. We had a topsy-turvy season last year and we were one game away from relegation and now it has happened.
“We need to go on again and try and go one step further, or two steps further, from what we did last year.”
Meanwhile, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney says he had “a good laugh” about the rumours that swirled around social media alleging he had a bust-up with Rian O’Neill last week.
“What can you do?” asked the Armagh manager.
“People will chat and say things and I can’t control it. Those people will probably have a laugh today but for us it hurts and it hurts a lot because the players have put an awful lot of effort in.
“There are boys in our dressingroom who have worked for 10 years: the Forkers, the Grugans, the Sheridans… to drag the team up and they’ve always wanted to leave Armagh in a better place. I think they’re at the top table but falling down to Division Two does have an impact.”
O’Neill was with the squad at Healy Park on Sunday. He is having treatment for the quad injury that ruled him out of Sunday’s crucial game and McGeeney hopes to have him available for the Ulster Championship opener.
“It’s only a small nick so we’re hoping he’ll be back for the Antrim game,” he said.
“But he’s a big lad with big muscles and even the small tears (can take time to heal). We’d be very hopeful that he’ll be back but we have to wait and see.”