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Reality Check

June 6, 2016

A managers lot is aptly summed up in the widely held view of a lot of supporters from their club or county-“When their team loses-blame the manager, when their team wins-why wouldn’t he win with the players he had at his disposal “. Perhaps the only common denominator that can be attributed to all managers across the board is that they “never pick a team to lose” Certainly things might not go right on the day, in terms of game plans being carried out or tactics are totally in-correct for the team they are playing or that players fail to play their assigned roles, but again for me –no team at any age level is sent out on the field of play without any managerial instruction, be they good or bad on any given day.

As the GAA hierarchy sits back and become willing participants in the blatant erosion of their games ethos “amateurism” part of the price to pay for their “now professional sport” which has adopted the codes of practice of other full-time professional sports, has become evident in the TV ratings war between rival “GAA pundits”. Once, all we had to look forward to was the Sunday Game programme, now we are treated to live matches, in-depth analysis from former players in a “paid capacity” across numerous TV stations, which has led us to the “open field scenario” where the two most talked about people in the game, the referee and the manager have become “fair game”.

Before taking up the reins of manager the person knows that criticism and abuse are part and parcel of the job as is praise when the trophy cabinet is being dusted down and filled with silverware. However, there are boundary lines that should never be crossed by journalist or pundits i.e. allowing things to get personal as it did by Joe Brolly in his analysis of Armagh’s lack of performance against Cavan in their Ulster Championship quarter-final game. Not for the first time Joe singled out Kieran McGeeney for “personal assassination” which comfortably crossed the aforementioned boundaries.

Joe, like us all is fond of a good “rant” and his profession enhances his “gift for the gab but like us all he lost his “valid points” by getting personal. Joe, whose playing career is remembered for “that’s the little fella who blew kisses to the crowd” is still showing us now what he was back then “a showman, playing to the audience.  Joe is the GAA’s equivalent to soccer’s Eamon Dunphy, captivating a viewing and literary audience on the back of controversy with people eagerly waiting to see what person or what topic will be in his next line of fire. Joe knows his own boundary lines when it comes to “character assassination and deformation as his continued controversies sees his wider audience and TV ratings soar to new heights.”

BACK TO BASICS

Following the latest championship fiasco it is time to examine the whole structure of Armagh football. Reality is that Armagh is now where Donegal were when they trooped out of Crossmaglen a few years ago. Donegal went back to basics ,re-grouped, firstly became very hard to beat in a very defensive minded set-up before expanding and using the talent at their disposal to go on to win the All-Ireland.

Armagh’s latest championship conquerors Cavan have beaten the Orchard County 3 times this year, all in convincing fashion. Cavan have come from Division Three to Division One with an ultra -defensive built in mechanism on board. Until manager Terry Hyland got the balance of his team right in terms of bedding in his younger players from their 3 Ulster u-21 titles and his more established senior players did Cavan become a very effective offensive side with telling effect as we have seen at first hand.

It seems to me that the first thing that Armagh do to free scoring underage scoring forwards is to turn them into back tracking defensive units. “The manager says I must track back, so I get back, but have no real role to play, as was seen against Cavan where there were loads of players behind the ball but Cavan still sailed through the defence at will using power and pace. Armagh had 2 scoring forwards on the day, Stefan Campbell and Tony Kernan with 3 of the other 4 starting forwards replaced. That means that Armagh used a total of 9 forwards yet only 2 registered on the scoreboard and managed a meagre 5 points from play over the course of the match. Five of Cavan’s starting 6 forwards registered scores.

Current manager Kieran McGeeney has been involved with this panel of players for the last 3 years, one as assistant manager and two as manager. Everyone knows what Kieran brings to the table in terms of commitment and professionalism but there is more to football management than getting a group of players to buy into a cause. Footballers need to buy into a structured style and system of play that thus far has been, in my opinion, void in his tenure of office. Yes, on any given day with everyone playing to their abilities, Armagh can match the best, but those days are too infrequent and harder to pull off without a set plan of action. Whilst there has to be some sort of game plan in operation by Armagh for games it is either too easily dismantled or too hard to implement given the on field displays which show no real definitive pattern.

SINCE LAST ULSTER TITLE

Peter McDonnell led Armagh to their last Ulster title in 2008, since then Armagh has played a total of 28 championship matches. The record is as follows Won: 11 Drew 2 Lost 15. Six of the 11 wins have been over Ulster sides Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh, Down, Cavan and Tyrone, 3 wins over Wicklow, Leitrim and Meath. The draws were with Wicklow (won replay 2011) and Monaghan (lost replay 2014).

It’s hard to beat the facts of the last 8 years, which give a clear indication of just where Armagh football is at and the picture painted is not a pretty one. The heady days for Armagh football are long gone and the present position is a correct one. The production line of Orchard talent is not materialising when it comes to the transition to senior football. The question is Why not? And what is going to be done about it.

BEHIND THE SCENES

Over the last number of years Armagh footballing structures, development, minor U-21 and Senior have been in the hands of members of the All-Ireland winning team of 2002. Fair to say that I have never seen any one team to produce so many managers across the board at club and county level as that 2002 winning team. Yet the irony is that those of them with proven track winning records as managers have not been involved in the Armagh County set-up.

There is a template for success on the doorstep within the county but it seems to be that those responsible for or involved in it are either not interested or not asked by those at the top table of Armagh football to get involved.

The successful counties at present in both hurling and football encourage their players to play for their clubs at every opportunity. Not so in Armagh. The current system is clearly not working so someone somewhere has to do something to get Armagh on their first rung of the ladder back being competitive, and see where it goes from there.

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