ARMAGH hurlers will regroup and refocus when they return to training tonight after the disappointment of missing out on promotion last weekend.
The Orchard county men battled their determined opponents and the wintry elements and had to contend with some puzzling calls from referee Thomas Gleeson in the Division 3A final in Navan and ended up losing by three points.
That defeat consigned Armagh to another season in the fifth tier of the National Hurling League but manager Padraig O’Connor is optimistic that his men will bounce back for the Nicky Rackard Cup campaign this summer.
“We had to match Roscommon physically,” said O’Connor.
“We had played them a few weeks ago and we were aware of their strengths and weaknesses and we formulated a plan and set up the team to try and counteract that while playing to our own strengths.
“I’m really proud of the players and they should be really proud of themselves. They’re a disappointed bunch now but they’ll be back, they’re resilient and we’ll learn from today.
“This will be used as a learning experience - the players will learn, they’ll learn things about themselves that will make them better players in the future.”
Armagh, who were relegated from the Christy Ring competition last year, will be among the favourites in this season’s Nicky Rackard Cup series.
The Orchardmen begin their group one fixtures on May 11 when they host Monaghan at the Athletic Grounds. They face Warwickshire – who beat Donegal last weekend to survive in Division 2B - a week later before finishing the group stage with another road trip against Division 3B runners-up Longford.
O’Connor predicts that Armagh will be “difficult to talk to” if they produce their best form in the summer.
“We’ll go in hopeful,” he said.
“We know the ability that’s within the group and, on any given day, if we get the rub of the green we’ll be difficult to talk to.”
The Armagh manager was bitterly disappointed by defeat at Pairc Tailteann on Sunday. His men were denied what would surely have been a tap-in goal when Eoin McGuinness was sent clean through in their best move of the match only for referee Gleeson to call play back and award Armagh a free.
A goal then might have made all the difference in a tight game and Armagh did have a late chance to force extra-time but Nathan Curry’s free was blocked on the line and the Rossies took a three-point win.
“There is an advantage rule – play the advantage, it’s as simple as that,” said O’Connor.
“Some of those decisions went against us, that’s how it goes, that’s sport. We tried very hard and there were a couple of occasions that we could have fashioned a goal chance. “Today it didn’t happen but on another day it might.”
Despite his disappointment, O’Connor says progress was made in the League and he predicts better things ahead for his Armagh side.
“The plan was to reach the League final and when we got there we wanted to win it,” he said.
“It’s disappointing not to win it, Roscommon are strong for Division 3A but the best two teams were in the final, it just wasn’t our day but our day will arrive soon.”