Kevin Madden: Armagh get the breaks at last while big two send out a warning

Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty saves Shane Walsh's penalty in the win over Galway Picture by John Merry
Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty saves Shane Walsh's penalty in the win over Galway Picture by John Merry Armagh goalkeeper Ethan Rafferty saves Shane Walsh's penalty in the win over Galway Picture by John Merry

WHAT is it they say about timing? As Joe McQuillan awarded Galway a free that would equalise the game, Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney could clearly be seen pointing to his watch.

And who could blame him as the clock ticked towards five minutes overtime, two more than the original added time called?

But as stoppage-time continued you could sense the anticipation and nerves building in Shane Walsh and for once lady luck was with the Orchard county.

Fortune favours the brave and credit must go to Andrew Murnin for the way he hunted down John Daly and capitalised on the handling error to turn the ball over before winning the vital free.

This game definitely drew a conclusion for me on what it takes to make a game of football exciting – press the opposition kick-out.

Both teams pushed up on practically all of each other’s restarts and it was refreshing to see so many long deliveries and breaking ball contests.

This led to a lot less probing and much more direct play as both teams wanted to get at each other before they could get ‘set up’.

The Armagh defending that led to the penalty and then the Galway goal was shockingly poor.

After Galway put their first proper press on the Ethan Rafferty kick-out they broke and the attack was quickly switched from right to left.

Armagh didn’t push their defensive pack across quick enough which left Galway with a numerical advantage and Sean Kelly coming like a rocket off the sideline.

If that was disappointing then the defending for the goal was abysmal.

In similar fashion the play was switched right to left. Stefan Campbell was tagging the Galway full-back but it was clear he was about to get burned for pace. There was no anticipation of the danger from the players around him as Kelly drove through the Armagh defence like a hot knife through butter.

Armagh’s second-half performance was much better especially their defending. After the heartbreak of losing the Ulster final on penalties this was some result for Armagh. Timing is everything and with Rian O’Neill back in contention the next day, there could be yet another couple of big days ahead for McGeeney’s men.

As I looked forward to the weekend’s matches, for some reason I had it in my head that we were now into knockout in both the All-Ireland and Tailteann Cup. There has been an inordinate amount of critique this past while about the state of the modern game and what changes need to be made to make it more entertaining. I don’t disagree with some of the criticisms but equally for as long as I can remember people have been complaining about the game as a spectacle.

In his first press briefing back in 2012, GAA president Liam O’Neill described the game as ‘boring’.

The game has always evolved and it will continue to do so whether there are rule changes or not. I cannot lie, my frustrations at the minute lie firmly with the Championship format more than anything else.

I guess you could say I am not a not a big fan of 12 teams from 16 progressing to the next stage.

From a players’ perspective a greater game-to-training ratio has to be a good thing but as a supporter it has dulled the excitement in my opinion.

With Cork, Kildare and Donegal finishing second in their groups, you could argue that finishing third was more of an advantage.

In reality, finishing top, and avoiding bottom place were the only things that really mattered.

The real stuff starts next weekend and thank god we are at long last into knock-out Championship. While my disdain for the new format is evident, I think the Tailteann Cup has been brilliant, particularly for work-in-progress like Down and Antrim. Both deserve credit and it is great that they can now look forward to a big day out in Croke Park.

One team who will have been delighted with the new format is Derry. They have built momentum nicely since their manager’s shock departure.

A goal and 13 points accumulated by the trio of Shane McGuigan, Niall Loughlin and Benny Heron was enough to see them top the group and go straight through to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

A couple of points from their goalkeeper Odhran Lynch was yet another example that the number on the shirt means absolutely zero in the modern game.

Donegal will also have been glad of the new system as they look to be making steady progress under Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley after a convincing win over Monaghan.

With their stellar record in Ballybofey they will be relishing a home draw and the chance of making it to an All-Ireland quarter-final.

There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about this being the most open All-Ireland in a long number of years. I’m not buying into that theory just yet, as I can only see the winners coming from one of the big two in Dublin or Kerry. Both made their intentions clear as they wiped the floor with Sligo and Louth in devastating fashion yesterday.