Fortune favours the brave. Following criticism of Armagh in the recent past over their inability to show up when it counts, Kieran McGeeney gave the proverbial two fingers to his detractors (myself included) with a hugely impressive victory over reigning All-Ireland holders Tyrone yesterday.
Sensing their neighbours were vulnerable, the Orchard men were brave and direct, fuelling the electric Athletic Grounds atmosphere at every opportunity. That same energy kept the Armagh players driving at Tyrone’s defence, thus keeping them at arm’s length all afternoon.
With both sets of managers needing to find something more from their teams following disappointing Ulster exits, a few notable teamsheet changes spoke volumes about the respective position of both outfits.
First up, McGeeney’s decision to start the flamboyant Stefan Campbell (inset) from the outset was a clear statement of intent. His direct, unpredictable, but at all times attack-minded style set the tone for his colleagues around him.
On the flip side, the Tyrone management’s decision to drop last year’s player of the year, Kieran McGeary, to the bench was further evidence of how they have been struggling to live up to the heights of last season.
The most pleasing aspect about Armagh’s performance, personified by Campbell, was how the players always had the confidence to mix up their play and not allow the odd misplaced pass to dent their ambition.
It kept an uncomfortable Tyrone defence guessing all afternoon. Would it go wide into the corner, high and direct, or a hard run through the middle? They never knew what was coming and as a result, scoring chances leaked out everywhere, which the Armagh forwards duly capitalised on.
Contrast Armagh’s approach to the slow and predictable play deployed by Monaghan in Castlebar on Saturday evening, where they limped out of Championship 2022 without scarcely laying a glove on a very beatable Mayo side.
I haven’t been slow to shower praise on Monaghan players and management in the past when deserved. The opposite must also apply. The rough goes with the smooth. Irrespective of a spring of promise, Monaghan’s report card for 2022 only merits a low grade.
Following their thrilling performance and win over Dublin in Clones, expectations in the county were rightly high. Nowadays, league form often translates into the summer, so on that basis there are serious questions to be asked as to why Monaghan have exited this year’s championship with such poor performances, first against Derry and now Mayo.
The unvarnished facts have proven that Monaghan’s style of play over the past few weeks, not dissimilar to Donegal’s last week, are becoming redundant.
Six goals conceded in three games, including two against a woeful Down team. No goals scored at the other end, and scarcely many more chances created.
While Jack McCarron and Gary Mohan tried as best they could to lead a largely misfiring attacking line, few others stood up to shoulder the scoring burden needed at this level.
With an attacking blade as ultimately blunt as that, Monaghan regretfully have no business going any further in the championship.
In the aftermath of the Mayo defeat, Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney was typically defiant and deeply critical of referee Barry Cassidy’s decision not to award a last-gasp penalty. In all honesty, it was a convenient distraction from his main concern, which should have been why for a second championship game in succession did his team perform so poorly?
No objective player, manager, coach or supporter could watch back the game and honestly say that Monaghan deserved a result.
Yes, they could have had a penalty in injury time, but it was of the ‘soft’ variety at best. It was only when the game was nearly up that Monaghan showed the required drive and intensity to win a game that, on reflection, was there for the taking. Barry Cassidy can’t be faulted for that.
Any frustration and regret the Monaghan players and management have this morning should be around why they didn’t show similar levels of ambition to Armagh, and have a proper cut at a top-tier side. That, more than any marginal refereeing decision, will hurt the most over the coming weeks and months.
As for Mayo, James Horan will know they have a lot of improving to do, to have any realistic ambitions for the remainder of the summer. Winning playing badly is not a bad trait either, and Monaghan’s overly negative approach arguably brought out the worst in a team that prefer to play in more open exchanges.
Along with Armagh, this morning they will believe they can be the best of the rest in the pack chasing Dublin and Kerry.