Damp squid at Athletic Grounds

January 25, 2011

McKenna Cup Armagh 0-12 Antrim 1-12

After the pulsating and entertainingly sweet victory over Down in the opening match of the McKenna Cup competition, Armagh supporters were looking forward to a winning start at the splendidly newly appointed Athletic Grounds.

The disjointed nature of the weather interrupted competition left it a winner take all encounter with a place in the semi-finals at stake for either Armagh or opponents Antrim. Antrim had beaten St Mary’s in their opening match and while Armagh’s Wednesday night game with the same opposition fell victim to the weather Antrim picked up their third point with a home draw with Down leaving the match winner through to the last four.

It was a vastly more experienced Antrim side that won the day with a far more composed performance especially defensively as they coped comfortably with a toothless home attack. The score that separated the teams at the final whistle arrived with 6 minutes on the clock when goalkeeper Philip McEvoy mis- handled a long delivery from Mark Sweeney, with the lurking CJ McGourty back in action after missing the Down match, probably providing the distraction. It would be unfair to say that the goalkeepers mistake cost Armagh the match as the Orchard County produced their most productive scoring burst following the goal with a trio of points to cancel out the major score. But a late rally towards the end of the half from the visitors as Paddy Cunningham, CJ McGourty and Kevin Niblock all notched points gave them an interval lead of 1-5 to 0-5.

A home revival looked on the cards as points, from the again impressive, Rory Grugan and equally Conor Clarke reduced the deficit to the minimum but that was as good as it got for the home supporters as Antrim with an extra man in defence stifled open play and shut off all avenues to goal. For the second game in a row it was some of the newcomers in attack which caught the eye rather than the defensive formation. Grugan, Clarke, McParland and O’Rourke showed that they have what it takes and can only improve as time goes on. The biggest problem even at this early stage of the season is the lack of consistancy in the delivery of the ball to the forwards, especially those small in stature. The benefit of an injury free Kevin Dyas was clear to be seen.

With two McKenna Cup games under their belts it was some of the more seasoned campaigners on view that failed to impress. Players established in the team are still making the wrong choices in a non event such as the McKenna Cup how are they supposed to change come the white heat of battle. More specific coaching for the roles they are expected to play rather than concentration on fitness levels could be more appropriate as they do not seem to be learning or grasping their roles. Going into the second year under new management should see at least a dozen players cemented in their team place. The great midfield, best full back issues are still up in the air. With Dublin next month the visitors for the opening game of the league and a tough league campaign in the offing a few tough choices will have to be made by management. Will all the already tried and tested be able to survive the upsurge in young talent that is emerging within the county. Armagh are no different than every team in the country-getting the blend right is the hardest part for any management team. The Orchard County did not look out of their depth in the Croke Park qualifiers last year. A full fit Ronan Clarke, the infusion of some new young blood to emerge even stronger during the league and of course the old rub of the green and 2011 might be a hell of a year

While a longer run might have been preferred ,the McKenna Cup has served it’s purpose and given the new re-scheduling maybe it being out of the way is more practical for the bigger picture. The span kingly new look and very impressive Athletic Grounds will house a lot more meaningful and telling matches before the end of this current year is out.