January 20, 2014

Power NI Dr. McKenna cup Tyrone 5-16 Armagh 0-7

The faithful Armagh supporters travelled in positive mood to Healy Park, Omagh on a Wednesday night for the third instalment in Section A of the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup against unbeaten table topping Tyrone.

The optimistic mood of the travelling support was based on a very positive showing in an unlucky defeat 4 days earlier at the hands of Donegal at the Athletic Grounds. Another good performance was what those who made the journey were looking for, as a big win over their arch rivals for semi-final qualification looked a very tall order.

Injuries and experimentation meant that manager Paul Grimley made 5 changes to the team that started the game against Donegal. Out went Finnian Moriarty, Kieran Toner, Stefan Forker, Oisin MacIomhair and Kevin O’Rourke to be replaced by Paul Hughes, Eugene McVerry, Kyle Carragher, Tony Kernan and Jamie Clarke.

On the night Armagh simply had no answer to the movement and power of the McKenna Cup holders who hit five goals and had 11 different scorers in a 24 point demolition 5-16 to 0-7 of their rivals who were left feeling humiliated and embarrassed.

In fairness to anyone connected to Armagh, no one could have seen such a hiding coming which left management, players and supporters scratching their heads for answers as to what went wrong. Well, simply just about everything once Shay McGuigan set-up Ciaran McGinley’s for a 16th minute goal. A second goal followed 8 minutes later from Matthew Donnelly which helped make it game, set and match to the Red Hands by the short whistle, as they went in leading 2-10 to 0-4.

Thirty seconds after the restart any hopes of a remote Armagh revival were dashed completely as PJ Lavery added goal number three with two more green flags to follow via a Peter Harte penalty, and a second for Lavery some three minutes from time.

For me the basic major difference between what is regarded as two experimental teams is that Mickey Harte had a system of play for his Tyrone players to play to and fit into, whereas Armagh seem to be looking to individual brilliance to get results as they lack any cohesion as a unit. The respective managers in Wednesday night’s match both used a total of 28 players in their 3 games yet there is day and night between the level of performances from both squads.

Stefan Campbell had two useful promising performances as a forward in the opening two games yet he was cast in the role of centre-half back against Tyrone. The Clan Na Gael player was one of the team’s better performers in Omagh but why line him out in a position he is unlikely to occupy for the rest of the year. James Donnelly was used as a full-back twelve months ago in the same competition yet later in the year, when Armagh was suffering in that department, he was never used and has now disappeared off the scene for one reason or another. I am all for giving players a chance but you must give them the opportunity to perform in what is regarded as their best positions. Experiments are grand if they serve a purpose. Armagh’s experimenting seems to throw up nothing different as they soon return to type playing football on instinct and natural ability, of which they have aplenty, while the more successful teams play to their own strengths.

It is not today or yesterday that the call to find a number 11 to aid the Armagh cause was issued. A solid link and focal point for talented but physically lacking forwards is what is needed. Young Ethan Rafferty could be the one to solve the problem as he showed up very well at midfield in the last three games. The Grange player has power strength and scoring ability and could be groomed into a very central figure in the years to come. It was also obvious the other night of the threat Jamie Clarke poses every time he gets the ball but on many occasions he was left isolated and alone with help a bit away and he was crowded out.

Wednesday night sent out one clear message that it’s back to the drawing board for Armagh where someone must come up with a gameplan to suit the panel of players that is available to management. As individuals Armagh has as much talent at their disposal as the best out there. The best out there have come up with a plan of action that best suits their means, Armagh have yet to put that plan into action.

Talks of  needing time to put this in place is nonsense, when you consider what Davy Fitzgerald did with Clare and a 19 year old winning both Young and Senior Hurler of the Year. One does not even have to use Clare as an example as there is one on our own doorstep, Crossmaglen Rangers. Look how the re-invented themselves with a new style of play to suit their needs after losing the championship and a host of players in 2009.

You often hear Armagh supporters say that the Cross players play better for their club than the county, the reason is self- explanatory they are used to playing to their tried and tested club system.

Following the lowest point in Armagh football for a long time traipsing out of Omagh on Wednesday night, there is only one way but up. Sunday Feb 2 in Drogheda against Louth (all ticket) in Division Two of the National Football League it starts all over again, the hype, the hope the expectation, the exorcism of Omagh, the eternal belief of the Orchard County support put to the test once more. Where would we be without it?

Armagh – P McEvoy; A Mallon, C Vernon, P Hughes; M Shields, S Campbell (0-1), C Rafferty; E Rafferty (0-1), J Lavery; E McVerry, K Carragher (0-2), T Kernan (0-1); R Tasker (0-1), J Clarke, N McConville. Subs: K O’Rourke for McVerry, B Mallon (0-1) for McConville, J Hanratty for Kernan, C MacIomhair for Carragher, C McCooey for Hughes.

Tyrone – N Morgan (0-1); A McCrory, R McNamee, B Tierney; C McGinley (1-0), P Harte (1-2), R McNabb; D McBride (0-1), C Grugan (0-1); E McKenna (0-2), S McGuigan (0-1), PJ Lavery (2-1); P McNeice (0-2), M Donnelly (1-1), R O’Neill (0-4). Subs: C Clarke for Tierney, P Quinn for Donnelly, H Gallagher for McNabb, K Campbell for McNamee, K Gallagher for McGinley, T McCann for Grugan.