21 July 2021
Yet again the Anglo Celt Cup has eluded Armagh who came so close to making it to an Ulster final for the first time since 2008 on Saturday in Pairc Esler.
And while manager Kieran McGeeney couldn’t fault the effort his players put into a thrilling 4-17 to 2-21 semi-final defeat at the hands of Monaghan, performances are irrelevant when his players are slumped on the pitch in despair.
“They are here to win medals and they want to do that. It is not all that common in Armagh; they are good enough to do it and therefore it is our job to get them to that point if we can,” was McGeeney’s feeling on the brave, yet ultimately fruitless display. And it was another getting-there response when asked if he could see his side on an upward trajectory overall, despite the heart-breaking loss.
“Yes, there is progression, but I suppose we are looking for perfection,” shrugged the manager who felt the game was there for the taking after Armagh fought back from a seven-point deficit midway through the second half to go one in front with five minutes of normal time remaining. “I just think we threw it away,” he felt.
“They were up there, I thought the whole way through the game. Off the front foot we were very good, but we were a wee bit sloppy at the back. I suppose the change of the keeper and one or two seasoned defenders out left us a wee bit vulnerable there and we just got caught by defending a certain way, and it took us a while to settle. In fairness to Monaghan, they put four goals past us - but they were soft.”
And while it was a difficult question to address given what had just happened on the pitch, and given the mood in the Armagh camp, the manager still believes Armagh can win an Ulster title.
“I think they will if they want to, but you always have to remember between like and want. I think they have recognised that, and they are going the right way and the right direction.” And like anyone who saw the game, McGeeney knows his men left everything on the pitch.
“You couldn’t ask for anything more. And I couldn’t ask anything more off them over the past two years. They have learned what it is like to be in a county team now and they are given what they can, or even more than they can. It is a pleasure to be associated with them.”
Talent is one thing but desire and magic moments are something else altogether.
“They are the things that you don’t coach,” says McGeeney.
“You see managers taking a lot of adulation over the years for wins and stuff like that, but you can’t make a man block and you can’t make him work.
“When you see it starting to come through - and it is in those boys - you know that there is something different there. I’ve seen people over the years taking credit for wins with points and that, but I’ve seen fellas blocking with their heads and goals out of nothing, chasing down things, making maybe seven or eight runs to be the extra man, people don’t see it, but it makes the goalkeeper step the other way, for scores. They are the things that make a team, and they are learning that. It is just we need to tidy up and be a wee bit more ruthless at the other end.”
And as, for that end of the pitch, where Killeavey youngster Shea Magill was drafted into nets with Blaine Hughes out due to Covid-19, McGeeney certainly didn’t blame the keeper for the four goals conceded.
“He didn’t have much time and he took it on the chin,” he said.
“A young fella - he is under 20 - and to throw him into the heat of that there is tough, and I thought he did very well. Again - nothing but praise for Shea.”
With the summer over for Armagh, looking ahead to next season, the manager says he should have all of his injured players back to choose from.
“Aidan Nugent is close to being back, [Mark] Shields is running again, and Ethan [Rafferty] will be closer to Christmas. We have one or two older fellas that might consider things, but I wouldn’t say that anybody wouldn’t be back for pre-season,” said the manager who will then have a lot of competition for places.
“It is hard to be dropped based on opinion, because they have put in some serious work, and I suppose that is the hardest part of the job.”To read more subscribe to our online Newspaper