Execution killing Armagh, admits Kieran McGeeney, as Brian Dooher welcomes laboured Tyrone win

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney before their All-Ireland SFC Group 2 round two loss away to Tyrone. Pic Philip Walsh
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney before their All-Ireland SFC Group 2 round two loss away to Tyrone. Pic Philip Walsh

All-Ireland SFC Group 2, round two

Tyrone 0-13 Armagh 0-11

EXECUTION is killing Armagh, acknowledged their manager Kieran McGeeney, after yet another narrow big game loss – but he insists they still have their sights set on a shot at glory.

Armagh’s lack of ruthlessness was perhaps summed up by substitute Oisin Conaty not getting a shot away at the open goal when Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan slipped in the seventh minute of added time, with that hesitation allowing home defender Michael McKernan to boot the ball out for a ‘45’.

Then, when Armagh worked that short, Conaty took his point rather than sending the ball in for what could have been an equalising goal.

Yet despite losing out to Tyrone, ‘Geezer’ isn’t fazed by the prospect of taking on Galway next – but he knows the Orchard County’s shooting must improve if they’re to have any chance of overcoming the Tribesmen.

Whether Armagh joint-captain Rian O’Neill will be involved remains to be seen. The Crossmaglen man received a straight red card on the half hour mark after tangling on the ground with Tyrone defender Cormac Quinn, with McGeeney stating that his player felt he had done nothing wrong.

“Rian says somebody pulled him down by the jersey and he tried to get up three or four times and somebody kept holding the jersey. I haven’t seen it but I’m sure we’ll get a fair hearing.” That last remark delivered with a knowing smile.

Asked if Armagh intended to appeal, McGeeney responded: “We’ll have to look at it first.”

Armagh have probably already done enough to progress to the preliminary quarter-finals, but they could have been in contention to top the group except for wasted opportunities, especially in the opening quarter hour at Healy Park.

“Execution has been a major problem for us this year,” accepted McGeeney. “We’re not finishing. We’re killing teams with setting up chances – and then their shot-to-score ratio way exceeds ours.

“It’s not that we don’t have the forwards to do it. A lot of the shots aren’t under great pressure, I think a lot of it’s the pressure they put on themselves in terms of not having that ruthless streak when the game’s in the melting pot, but hopefully that will come.”

The Mullaghbawn man refuted one reporter’s suggestion that Armagh lacked some urgency because the format is not straight knock-out:

“I don’t buy that: you can’t see that we had three or four goal chances in the first 15 minutes and should have had the game out of sight and also say that our team didn’t have urgency.

“When you go down to 14 men there has to be wee bit of settling in period, which we had, they got two or three points – but even in that period we missed a couple of easy chances as well.

“I thought the fellas showed real character today, as they’ve shown throughout the year. We can live with any team, it’s just our execution at important times has been poor.”

Tyrone ’keeper Morgan saved superbly from Conor Turbitt in the opening minute, then from Jason Duffy in the 14th, while in between Jarly Og Burns rolled a shot narrowly wide.

“It wasn’t just the goal chances,” recalled McGeeney ruefully; “remember we had them running back three times and then poor passes let them off the hook.

“It wasn’t three or four goal chances, it was probably seven in those first 13 minutes that cost us. I thought we were very energetic, moving the ball forward, fellas going after it – it was just getting the ball in the net…”

Tyrone joint-manager Brian Dooher was relieved to avoid a fifth consecutive Championship defeat, although his team made hard work of the win even with an extra man:

“We probably took our foot off a bit at the start [of being a man up], and then we got back going again and got it out to six points.

“That was the point then when we should have been pushing on, and we didn’t. And whenever you don’t push on, and you give a team like Armagh an opportunity to come on to you, they don’t need to be asked twice.

“And they certainly came at us, and all credit to them, they picked off three great scores, and we saw at the end-up there, it could have been a different story.”

The same old story for Armagh, although both they and Tyrone should have further chapters to write in this year’s All-Ireland series.