National Football League Division two
Armagh v Kildare
Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 7pm
BY RONAN SCOTT
This week, in preparation for this article, I contacted a few well-respected former Armagh players to ask for their opinion on their county’s opening two games in the league.
They politely declined. One in particular, asked if I could leave it until after the Armagh lads got a chance to bounce back.
The response reminded me of a piece that Niall McCoy wrote in this paper last year about his beloved Orchard county.
Early in the season, he suggested that fans needed to give the county team more time to develop. They had a raft of scoring talent on board, superb attacking options, and the potential to make a real mark in league and championship football.
Last year’s league was a frustrating affair, as they won two, drew two and lost the rest in Division two.
In the championship they beat their old rivals Down, but lost to Cavan after a replay in the Ulster semi-final. A win over Monaghan lifted spirits but a one-point defeat to Mayo was gutting.
The potential has carried over into this year, and after their opening round win against Cavan provided slight revenge for that Ulster Championship defeat, they went into last weekend’s game against Laois with great hope.
Indeed, this very paper ran Armagh as the lead story on the front page, such was our own belief in the Orchard county’s chances of going on a run. But the win never came and Laois beat Armagh by 0-16 to 0-10.
I asked Gearoid Adams this week what he thought of the result. The Antrim man who has managed his own county, and coached Down, suggested that perhaps Kieran McGeeney’s team took the two points for granted. But he quickly pointed out that that was mere speculation. The truth is, from his point of view, was that he just didn’t understand how Armagh, who had played so well against Cavan, could lose to a Laois team who had drawn with Roscommon the week before hand. That’s a Roscommon team who were beaten by Fermanagh last week.
Perhaps the issue is that Division two is too tight to call. The Roscommon manager himself said this week that every team is on a par. So he’s not worried about his team’s positionin the league.
Armagh fans probably aren’t worried either. They still have time to get the promotion spot.
The questions they will ask themself is what changed between round one and round two?
There were two changes to the starting team that began the game against Cavan, and that which took the field against Laois. Aidan Forker and Rory Grugan were both sidelined last weekend and in their place came Aaron McKay and Mark Shields. Forker and Grugan scored 0-4 between them against Cavan.
Some of the additions that McGeeney made were notable. Jamie Clarke was sprung from the bench and scored 0-2, but even that didn’t make any difference.
Forker and Grugan’s absence meant that the Orchard were shorn an attacking threat in transition. Those two players are adept and moving the ball quickly on the counter.
At the same time, McKay and Shields are no slouches. It feels too straightforward to suggest that had Forker and Grugan been playing the result would have been reversed.
In the after match interview, McGeeney made the issue a lot clearer. He said that the team made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions. He took the blame himself and said that whatever had happened during the week had not worked.
The conclusion to be drawn could be that this was just one bad game, and the poor performance was exggerated by the absence of two important players, who should be back this weekend. Armagh could very well bounce back, the only problem is that they are up against McGeeney’s old charges Kildare. The two teams drew in round one of the 2019 league campaign. And Kildare are coming back off a one point loss to Clare. This one should be close.