‘We use our 2023 woes as motivation, not a hangover’ says Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney after strong start to their league campaign
They had to fight their way back from behind to overcome Louth by one point in their first fixture, but round two was much more straightforward, as goals either side of half-time from Cian McConville and Ciaran Mackin saw them cruise to a 2-16 to 0-10 win over last year’s Tailteann Cup champions Meath.
Discussing their good start to the season, manager Kieran McGeeney was asked how his team avoided a ‘hangover’ at the beginning of this season after three heartbreaks last year: relegation from Division 1 and penalty shootout defeats against Derry and Monaghan.
In response, he once again reinforced his belief that there is very little between the teams at the top table, and his team can’t afford to be ‘snobby’ about playing in the second tier.
“People in football can be very snobby,” he said.
“All you had to do was read the notes in then programme last week to show how snobby you could be against Louth – there are more times they’ve beaten us than we’ve beaten them. Same with Monaghan (last year).
“They’ve been in the first division for what, 11 years? They’ve been pushing on and you hear people saying we should be doing this or that against them. Don’t get me wrong, I think we have a good team and we can compete with the best, but when you’re at that top level, there’s very little between the top teams.
“The ones that are really good are just good at those fine margins, coming into the last 15 minutes: Dublin, Kerry, Derry last year too. We haven’t been far away for three years but you have to work down to those fine margins.
“I’m hoping it’s more of a motivation than a hangover. They’re a great bunch of lads and they’ve started to understand over the last number of years it’s them that cross the white line. They make the decisions.
“They’re doing well at the minute, but the big thing is the next three or four games and whether they get that consistency.”
‘The squad is only strong when you’re winning’
Perhaps the most impressive feature of Armagh’s winning start to the league is that they have got the victories without a number of key players.
Rian O’Neill, Andrew Murnin, Ethan Rafferty, James Morgan, Callum Cumiskey have all missed out through injury, and Aidan Nugent is still getting his fitness up to speed after suffering a knock during St Patrick’s Cullyhanna’s All-Ireland winning season.
The likes of Oisin O’Neill, Jarly Og Burns, Shane McPartlan, Jason Duffy and Ross McQuillan have been limited to substitute cameos, whilst Niall Grimley and Tiernan Kelly have been unused subs.
Reading through that list of names, it’s probably a fair question to ask: is this the strongest squad Kieran McGeeney has had in his time as Armagh manager?
“You just don’t know. It’s only a strong squad when you’re winning,” he answered pragmatically.
“If you lose a game people always say ‘they should be playing, they should be playing’. You give fellas a chance because they’ve been training in pre-season this year, other fellas have been out injured and stuff like that, but we’re hoping Ethan, Rian, Andrew, James will be coming back in soon, and you have the three Cullyhanna boys still to feature more as well.
“When you’re winning, it’s good. It puts everybody under pressure and that’s what you want. I’m hoping the fellas who were watching will be going ‘I want on there’ and pushing hard to get it – that’s what you’re looking for.
“We have more people at training this year that we’ve ever had, so that’s a big plus.”
‘Oisin Conaty was superb’
Although Armagh got the win last week, things could have been more comfortable had they finished their goal chances. However, there were no such issues on Saturday with McConville and Mackin being clinical in front of goal.
Armagh boss McGeeney also had special praise for 20-year-old Oisin Conaty, who excelled at corner forward.
“It’s funny, I felt more elated last week because it was close near the end and we got the win,” reflected McGeeney post-match.
“This week we got the goals that we missed from last week and it gave us a bit of a cushion. Meath probably went for goals at the end there when they could’ve clipped points, so every scoreboard doesn’t tell the true story but we’re delighted to get out of it and get the two points.
“Oisin Conaty was superb, his pace and his power, Cian [McConville] was smart enough to follow in for the goal.
“We still missed a couple in the first 10 or 12 minutes where we gave the ball away, but that goal gave us a real good cushion going in at half-time, you can play with a wee bit more freedom when that happens.”
For more reaction and full match report of Armagh’s victory over Meath see this week’s Newry Reporter – in shops Wednesday February 7!