Kevin Madden: Armagh and Derry look like they suffered Ulster final hangover

Derry's Niall Toner up against Ryan Wylie of Monaghan during Saturday's game at Celtic Park Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Derry's Niall Toner up against Ryan Wylie of Monaghan during Saturday's game at Celtic Park Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

AS I reflected on two very flat performances from both Armagh and Derry at the weekend, I wondered about a lingering hangover from the Ulster final.

The drama of extra-time, the emotional highs and lows of a penalty shoot-out, and then the euphoria and devastation that came with the end result.

It was clear that neither Derry or Armagh were anywhere near the motivation or intensity levels of the provincial decider.

Derry had already dismantled Monaghan by eight points in Ulster, with 10 different scorers from their goalkeeper through every line on the team.

Armagh, playing in the Athletic Grounds, were expected to beat an under-performing Westmeath very comfortably at the weekend.

To go from playing in a provincial final to a four-team round-robin group from which three will qualify, wasn’t really going to get the juices flowing or the blood boiling. But still, if I were either a Derry or Armagh supporter I’d have concerns about what I witnessed on Saturday evening.

In attack, Shane McGuigan is playing superbly for the Oak Leafers, but has it been the case of the lonesome boatman lately now the scores have dried up from defence and midfield?

Sporadic moments of brilliance from Ethan Doherty and Ciaran McFaul won’t be enough going forward. No scores came from defence or midfield on Saturday which was a first this year and perhaps signals that the all-out attacking juggernaut has gone a tad stale.

Under Rory Gallagher’s reign the starting team and the subs introduced had been very consistent, or predictable, depending on how you want to define it.

Someone commented to me recently that it is harder to lose your place on this Derry team than it is to play your way into it.

This hasn’t hindered them in winning back-to-back Ulsters, but

in the last two games there has been a staleness and predictability to their play.

The choice is to either evolve the gameplan or freshen things up in the starting line-up. To win a big game versus top opposition in Croke Park it might take the former.

With the change in management, it will be interesting to see if Derry attempt to adapt their play somewhat over the next couple of games and kick the ball more. Of course, huge credit must go to Farney boss Vinny Corey for getting his match-ups spot on and the conviction and bravery shown with his starting team.

To bench the experience of Conor McManus, Jack McCarron and the Hughes brothers in the pursuit of youth, energy and legs took some courage.

My only criticism would be that the timing of McManus’s introduction was very much reactive rather than proactive. He should have been brought on when Monaghan were still in the driving seat.

You might argue ‘sure what did he do when he came on?’. Yet I’m convinced his presence alone drew massive attention and it was a factor in Monaghan getting a draw in the end.

The last point by the brilliant Karl O’Connell doesn’t happen if McManus is still in the dug-out. Three Derry players ran to him frantically as he had the ball in a seemingly harmless position.

As the ball was played back out to O’Connell, the deep sea had already been parted and the space was there for him to run into and kick the equaliser.

That was a bit of a theme on the night and perhaps a signal that the previous impenetrable Derry defence were beginning to show chinks of vulnerability.

Conor McCarthy’s couple of outstanding scores were other examples of Monaghan getting inside the Derry 50 far too easily to get the shot away.

O’Connell had a massive influence on the game in both the way he curbed Brendan Rodgers and his driving runs to create openings for his side.

When Gary Mohan got black-carded one would have expected Derry to show no mercy and use the extra man much more effectively. As hard as they tried to press up and dominate the ball, Monaghan worked their way through those high pressure situations brilliantly. Derry were out scored 0-3 to 0-2 during that period of the game, with the last of these scores an incredible 50 from the sideline converted by Rory Beggan.

Derry would have taken a point with 10 minutes to go and Monaghan certainly would have settled for one deep into injury-time, so a share of the spoils was probably a fair result.

Meanwhile, a flat Armagh will be counting their lucky stars that the breaking ball around the square fell to the foot of Conor Turbitt when it did.

After Rian O’Neill missed the glorious chance to put them in the driving seat early on, they were, frankly, all over the place.

There looked to be very little plan or intent to retain their own kick-outs short when the long deliveries from Ethan Rafferty weren’t working.

Offensively, the amount of cheap possession given away was off the charts as Westmeath were the team giving a lesson on how to manage the ball. Nevertheless, nothing sharpens the focus like a below-par performance, so we are sure to see an improved Armagh and Derry the next day out.