Friday 23 February 2018

Comment: Pressure will come from within if Kieran McGeeney's Armagh fall to Cavan

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney (SPORTSFILE)
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney (SPORTSFILE)

Declan Bogue

AM I on my own in thinking that, in general, Kieran McGeeney gets a fairly rough old time of it?

I think back to a couple of Fridays ago. Last year, a sub-committee was appointed to handle 'media opportunities' between the press corps and Armagh management and players. It got off to an odd start with a 7am breakfast hosted at the Canal Court in Newry.

While players and McGeeney broke off into small groups of journalists, the members of the committee sat in on those talks, recording the conversations on their iPads. If it felt petty and childish, well then, that's because it was petty and childish.

Ever since that morning, things have found their own equilibrium. Although we cannot speak for all, but some journalists like the early start. The Armagh county board are consistently generous in their feeding, which perhaps counts too much among the press pack. What can we say, old habits die hard.

In those briefings, McGeeney is happy to talk about anything and everything. The danger is that you can get waylaid discussing something else, such as his recent surprising revelation that he could eat up to five chocolate bars on a naughty day; a world removed from the man who once admitted he spent around €30 daily on fruit while he was a player.

Asked why he has not granted an individual interview since he was manager of Kildare, he replied, "It used to be that people would just ring up at work and they would think they had access to you through the day. I just think that's wrong." On the face of it, you cannot argue with that logic.

This is not a halo-shining exercise. McGeeney has his faults. In the post-match scenario, he can be snappy and short, but he is not alone in this regard, nor is he the worst. Standing on a sideline watching a Gaelic football match and you are the figurehead for its' outcome is a stressful exercise.

He can also get bogged down in the minutiae of the game rather than playing the game with reporters seeking 'a line.'

Where he is unfairly mistreated however, is in the modern-day news cycle.

In January, he said the following about modern-day training regimes of inter-county footballers; "It's better not to kid ourselves that we are at the elite end of sport.

"You can't say you are elite at something if you do two or three nights a week at something. Travel is a big factor for players, then you are looking at costs and things like that, getting centralised systems in place. It does take a big factor in your life, but then, most hobbies or passions do, regardless of what it is."

Once that was put through the whirlpool of articles, the tumble-dryer of headlines and dried on the line of Tweets, it became something quite misleading indeed.

It was a fair point and not exactly a new concept. Former Republic of Ireland soccer international Stephen Hunt had said the same thing in 2014 only to be the subject of mockery in a Joe Brolly column.

Kilkenny hurler Eoin Larkin couldn't wait to get stuck in, tweeting; 'I thought it before but he jus sealed the deal.what an A*** hole' (sic) - which is fairly personal ground to be straying into.

Throughout the history of Gaelic games, there hasn't been a tradition of supporters seeking to get rid of a manager. However, it is difficult to see that if Armagh cannot get a win against Cavan this Sunday, how McGeeney will not be under serious pressure from other quarters.

In year two of his five-year agreement, McGeeney's achievements on the pitch have not matched the expectation. Winning Division Three in his first year was seen as a given but the overriding memory of 2015 was a limp Championship surrender to Donegal in the Athletic Grounds, one year from making life extremely uncomfortable for them in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Behind the scenes, McGeeney is busy. He has been involved in the setting up of a fund-raising arm of Armagh that are travelling stateside, doing what every other county are doing in need of shekels. His profile of their only All-Ireland winning captain has been a huge help to the county board.

But the greatest pressure comes from within the camp. McGeeney knows this. Should they lose on Sunday, there is a chance that some can lose faith in the management. McGeeney has been part of those panels too as a player, where senior members of the squad would meet in secret to plot out gameplans.

And if that happens, no amount of security of five-year deals can grant you the faith of your players.

Again, he knows this.

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