16 AUG 2017
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Dismal display sees Armagh’s season end

9 August 2017

The stats don’t lie for Kieran McGeeney.

The Armagh manager couldn’t argue against the hammering his side received on a dismal Saturday afternoon at Croke Park to unceremoniously exit the All-Ireland Championship at the quarter-final stage.

An 18-point gap told the tale and, in truth, it could have been so much more against a Tyrone side who will count themselves as serious contenders for this year’s Sam Maguiere.

“When the game is over, the facts are staring you in the face. We retracted into our shell a bit today, we missed easy chances and we ran into cul-de-sacs. I think we’re a better team than we showed, but that’s just the way it goes,” McGeeney admitted.  

“There are probably a number of factors. We’ve been playing a certain way all year and then when you miss a couple of players that can have an effect on it. But we didn’t react well to the start. We wanted to move the ball quickly and we didn’t, we got caught up and I didn’t feel like we committed enough men to attack. We had one or two going forward instead of threes and fours and that left them on their own and they got suffocated.

“But Tyrone are very good at that. It’s something that they have been working on for a while. As a team, Armagh are going to have to deal with that and learn how to move the ball quicker,” he added.  

Armagh got off to a poor start with Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh pointing from wide on the left after just 51 seconds and then the signs of what was to come reared their head when captain Rory Grugan weaved his way through two tackles but his effort was woefully short and dropped into the hands of Tyrone keeper Niall Morgan.

With the well-oiled defensive system that the Red Hands are renowned for working perfectly for Mickey Harte’s men, every time Armagh ventured over the halfway line they were repeatedly smothered by two, and at times three, white shirts.

And much like the Ulster Final when they swept aside the challenge of Down, Tyrone’s transition from defence to attack was immense in comparison to those in orange. The counter-attacking football on show was of the highest order as they picked off Armagh at will and had they been more clinical in front of the posts, they could have been clear by double figures at the break.

Two points in quick succession from the livewire Mark Bradley put Tyrone three ahead with only six minutes on the clock before Armagh hopes were lifted when Jamie Clarke cut inside two challenges from the left but appeared to lose his footing at the vital moment and the chance was lost.

Sean Cavanagh knocked over a close-range free before Tiernan McCann nonchalantly swept over an outside of the boot effort just before the quarter hour before things got even worse a minute later for an Armagh side who had yet to trouble the scoreboard.   

Another swift break saw the excellent Peter Harte burst clear before playing in Bradley and when he was unceremoniously hauled down by Paul Hughes, Meath Referee David Gough had no option but to spread his arms wide to signal a penalty, that Harte coolly sent Blaine Hughes in the Armagh goal the wrong way from.  

While Armagh did register three out of the next four scores through Niall Grimley, Mark Shields and Gavin McParland, only punctuated by Declan McClure’s response for Tyrone, it did little in the way of lifting Orchard hearts. At 1-6 to 0-3 adrift with less than half an hour gone, there was no way back.

Tyrone simply don’t give up six-point leads and another Cavanagh free came shortly before Shields was shown the first of four Armagh black cards on the day.

Grugan and Harte then traded scores before the short whistle to leave Armagh with a mountain they simply were never going to climb after the restart.

Despite looking livelier early in the second period, McGeeney’s men failed to translate that into points and a Niall Morgan free and another Bradley score were notched before Armagh got their account up and running once again through Jamie Clarke’s only point of the afternoon.

Tyrone were able to ring the changes and after Mattie Donnelly and Grugan had pointed at opposite ends, one of those Red Hand subs staked his claim for a return to the starting line-up with the first of his two goals after coming on.

Declan McClure was the man with the finish when he capitalised on an all-at-sea Armagh defence to collect a precision diagonal pass from Niall Sludden to expertly sidefoot past Hughes and make it 2-11 to 0-5.

And the scores just kept coming for Mickey Harte’s men.

Cavanagh and Mulgrew pointed before the latter notched his second goal in an impressive cameo when once again the Orchard defence went AWOL to allow him to finish. That came after Cathal McCarron was sent off for two needless yellow cards in quick succession before Grugan was black carded for Armagh.  

Extra scores to add insult to injury came from sub Darren McCurry, Harte, Cavanagh and Morgan with Paul Hughes’s effort the solitary Armagh response.

“The thing you always have to give Tyrone is their team ethos. They all work hard, they take turns to rotate their attacking structure where everyone drops back and when they go in three and fours, it’s always different threes and fours that they go in. It’s a difficult thing to try and man-mark and to try and match up, but that’s the whole point of their system. It is possible, but it just takes more focus,” said McGeeney of Saturday’s victors.  

“I still think the big thing is that you have to go off the front foot when you’re going back. You have to put the ball dead.

“In the first 15 minutes, I think we had 82 or 83 per cent turnovers on our attack so that meant that every four or five attacks the ball was coming straight back, so you’re doubling your workload and they’re halving their workload. That builds up and we went into an 8-0 deficit and we never really recovered from that.”

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