Sunday 17 November 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Classy Clarke sets the Orchard apart

Talisman the difference in defeating Kildare as the Farney showed true quality with Down scalp

Niall McParland of Down attempts to block Colin Walshe’s route to the ball during Monaghan’s eight-point victory over the Mourne men at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall McParland of Down attempts to block Colin Walshe’s route to the ball during Monaghan’s eight-point victory over the Mourne men at Croke Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

From looking a basket case against Down last month, Armagh have demonstrated admirable qualities of resilience and togetherness in eclipsing Kildare last night.

Kieran McGeeney's side also have wonderful support who believe that this is a team on the move. This victory, hewn from all the good qualities of football, will only strengthen that view.

Armagh in the first half seemed to be able to square the circle in being capable of attacking in numbers while at the same time having plenty of spare men at the back thereby forcing Kildare to hand-pass their way upfield.

In contrast, Armagh kicked the ball at every opportunity. It did not always work out but there was plenty of times when the their forwards had Kildare on the run and Andrew Murnin did well to finish to the net, although a couple of Lilywhite backs should have done better.

Kildare, despite plenty of possession, had to tread their way through the defence. The tackling was tough and Armagh gave away some very easy frees. Kildare hit the post a few times in the first half, kicked some very bad wides, and the referee's decisions went Armagh's way.

And a black card controversy raised its head again. After wrong calls in the Donegal-Galway game last week we saw the most obvious black card which should have gone to Kildare goalkeeper Mark Donnellan. He walked away with a yellow. No-one needs to discredit the black any more. The referees are doing it for us every week.

The second half was a gripping struggle and when Kevin Feely missed an easy free with five minutes to go and Ethan Rafferty then kicked a monster point that looked to seal the deal.

Kildare never got to grips with Jamie Clarke and he was the difference in that he provided the bit of class that Kildare lacked. In the end Kildare looked ponderous with too many similar players, and the substitution policy looked questionable. Taking off Daniel Flynn was a strange move and a specific man marker should have been put on Clarke.

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Armagh were more of a team than Kildare. They may not have as many talented individuals but they have a great honest work ethic.

Monaghan, meanwhile sought rehabilitation on the road with qualifier wins over Wexford and Carlow after their shock defeat to Down some weeks ago. In a way it was just as well Monaghan had not taken a hiding off Tyrone and they came to Croke Park full of intent. The body language of Monaghan's players was completely different to when they were bullied by Down during the sides' previously meeting - in the Ulster championship five weeks ago. The Hughes brothers struck early with shots off the outside of the foot, the sort of attempts that drive coaches to distraction but seem to come off for the Monaghan pair. After a few other misses, though, the Monaghan supporters wanted Kieran Hughes to stop this particular tactic.

Down profited from early high ball and Sean Dornan was put in beside Connaire Harrison who gave Drew Wylie such a hard time in their Ulster meeting. It continued in this game too and Wylie, who has been used to subduing all-comers, found himself chasing quicksilver and Drew's brother Ryan and Fintan Kelly were soon posted on to Harrison.

Part of Monaghan's problems started off at exactly the opposite end by not putting pressure on the Down kickout. The ball often ended up with scoring chances for Down before a Monaghan man got a hand on the ball. It was very clear that Monaghan's strategy on kickouts was back-firing as Kevin McKernan had two chances, one for a goal and one for a point directly from kickouts worked downfield. There may be a problem stopping some short kickouts but certainly not after scores. Even stranger too, in Monaghan not really pushing up, was the fact that they won most breaks around midfield.

All Down's good play and long-range points were undone by a Fintan Kelly goal after a driving run by Darren Hughes drew in half the Down defence. It did not last long and another high ball broke to Harrison who slid it into the Monaghan net, the move again starting with a Down kickout. Down had plenty of those kickouts too as some Monaghan players continued with really stupid shots from distance. The opposite was the case for Monaghan and Rory Beggan had to kick long - but brilliant frees from Conor McManus kept Monaghan in the game.

The second half showed Down running out of legs even if Harrison continued to cause problems. U2 probably cost Ward a late goal for Monaghan as he slipped on the replaced patch of ground near the Railway goal, but at that time the best work was done. McCarthy, Ward and McCarron also made huge impacts off the bench. The Mourne men had no subs like him yet they have restored some pride in Down football after a period of constant decline and a feeling of despair.

Monaghan were ultimately comfortable winners but it was actually very uncomfortable for a long time. Yet the sign of a good team is to keep going at a relentless pace for almost 80 minutes and Monaghan are able to do that and they did run up a very big score. They have problems; not pressurising the kickout and high balls into the full-back line caused consternation. However, they are a hardened outfit and Darren Hughes was brilliant in midfield and McManus never hides and is a real gem. Monaghan now face the first real big dog - they need massive improvement to avoid a mauling.

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