Troubled Times?

July 20, 2015

July 12, 2015 was not so glorious for the thousands of Armagh GAA supporters who saw their county’s championship aspirations go west following their 1-12 to 0-12 home defeat by Galway. A week before the Ulster final is to be played; Armagh saw all routes to a prolonged championship season at Minor, U-21 or Senior level blocked off, without getting into their stride or anywhere near the level required for success. Armagh exited all 3 championships with a whimper.

All 3 Armagh championship teams put an awful lot of time and effort into training and preparing for their respective championships but on the day showed very little in terms of being able to perform as a team unit or carry out “the gameplan”, if there was one in use. Armagh minors were beaten by Donegal who were bookies favourites to not alone win Ulster but the All-Ireland, Derry knocked them out in the Ulster semi-final. The U-21 team beat Antrim but came a cropper against Tyrone 2-12 to 2-8 with the victors going on to win the All-Ireland title at Tipperary’s expense. With Kieran McGeeney at the helm for 2015 a lot was expected from Armagh but following promotion from Division Three it was all downhill in the championship. A listless performance against Donegal, followed by a struggled qualifier win over Wicklow led us to a tame exit to a Galway side who went on to beat Derry, who had run Donegal close in their Ulster championship match.

So is it a case of troubled times for Armagh or is it a case of sitting back and seeing what next year will bring?. Saturday Aug 9 2013 at Croke Park Armagh scored 1-11 against Donegal in a one point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat. Armagh showed in that game, which had their current manager as second in command that they were more than capable of beating Donegal. Still in complete control for 2015 Armagh, under Kieran McGeeney were regarded as “live outsiders” to do well in the 2015 championship. What better way to build a team than operating in a non- pressure situation by plying your trade against Division Three opposition. The good attacking performance shown against Donegal would be fine- tuned and added to.  The hype and expectancy surrounding Armagh resulted in over 10, 000 turning out for a McKenna Cup game in January four months later less than 7,000 turned out to see Armagh beat Fermanagh 0-16 to 0-11 in the Division three league final which was a double header with the Division Four final in Croke Park.

Injuries and constant team changes led to an unconvincing promotion and league title but the first part of the season had been a success, result wise in that promotion to Division Two was achieved. D-day with Donegal in the championship at the Athletic Grounds on June 14 arrived with Armagh fielding only 8 of the team to Donegal’s 11 from their last championship meeting in Croker. Donegal romped home but would be later exposed in the Ulster final by Monaghan.

The win over Wicklow was unconvincing and did not serve as a confidence booster for the visit of Galway and so it proved. The hype surrounding the McGeeney appointment has faded and while calls for his removal are way off the mark, GAA has become a results driven game with several high profile managers’ positions being called into question as the football and hurling championships progress. My take on the three championship games is quite simple for whatever reasons the team’s displays lacked the passion and intensity one associates with Armagh. No matter how bad a season Armagh was having in the past they always produced something to give hope that things can be turned round. But the general feeling following championship 2015 is where we go from here. There is a flatness following a false dawning that Kieran could transform everything overnight which was always going to be unfair. Still, after a year in the backroom team he decided that there was no need for change which is a bit unusual for a new manager coming in to take over.

Armagh have not shown anything as a team unit with a set pattern of play, be it offensive or defensive to offer. Wicklow from Division Four showed more as a team unit than Armagh have done. Monaghan and Roscommon have shown the way by coming out of Division Three to Division One. Monaghan have added two Ulster titles to their trophy cabinet since their Division Three days. Armagh supporters will be reminded what their Farney neighbours have done- won the Ulster title after exiting the 2014 stage at the same time as Armagh following a whipping by Dublin 2-22 to 0-11. The gauntlet, in terms of expectancy from the Armagh supporters for 2016 has just been risen another notch.