Friday 24 November 2017

Dick Clerkin: Leaderless Armagh still showing no signs of progress under McGeeney

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney watches the game from the clubhouse at Páirc Esler. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney watches the game from the clubhouse at Páirc Esler. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Two poor teams was the verdict reached by myself and my father while watching yesterday's contest between Down and Armagh in Páirc Esler in Newry.

Down did enough and will take some refuge from what was a badly needed win. Armagh, though, needed that win just as badly.

Banished from the sideline, looking down from on-high, Kieran McGeeney wouldn't have been impressed by what he saw in the second-half. Depressingly for him, 'leaderless' will be a charge yet again directed at his outfit after limping out of the first round of the Ulster Championship for the third successive year.

In the weeks building up to the game, all the talk coming out of Armagh was that this team was brimming with confidence and attacking flair.

A dejected Jamie Clarke. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
A dejected Jamie Clarke. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile

Regrettably for McGeeney, it looked like they left their best on the training ground, and with nobody to grab the bull by the proverbial horns in the second-half Down took the opportunity on offer to record their first victory over their neighbours in 25 years.

Division 3 status, no Ulster Championship wins in three years and no Ulster final appearance since they last won in 2008; you have to go back to the early 1970s for a time when Armagh football was at a lower ebb.

In 2004 Armagh came to Clones for the first round of the Ulster Championship. In the same fixture the previous year Monaghan caught them asleep at the wheel in what was a huge upset.

There was to be no reoccurrence this time around. In what was the only time I ever felt physically inferior on a football pitch, we were steamrolled by a team intent on exacting revenge.

By modern standards that Armagh team wouldn't have been anything extraordinary in terms of their physicality. Back then, however, they were miles ahead of their time, physically suffocating most teams they encountered.

I vividly remember getting a breaking ball around the middle of the field, only to by tackled with what felt like crowbars by Paul McGrane and Tony McEntee. Ten minutes in, I received a pass on the edge of the D, only to see Francie Bellew steaming head-first towards me with one thing on his mind.

Immediately pulling the trigger, I sent over what on the face of it looked a great score. Frankly, fear of decapitation contributed significantly to my apparent precision. That Armagh team had leaders in every line.

That 15-point chastening thankfully signalled the end to our inferiority, and as the leaders from the great Armagh team of the early Noughties moved on one by one, they harsh truth of the matter is they were never replaced. Not even close.

Crossmaglen's total dominance of the club scene in Armagh certainly hasn't helped their situation. An uncompetitive club scene is a poor breeding ground for the leadership qualities required for inter-county warfare. Ahead of their resurgence in the late 1990s, the Armagh Club Championship was at its most competitive, with six different winners in the same decade. Crossmaglen have won 19 of the last 21 championships.

At this stage McGeeney would have to admit it is getting increasingly hard to make a case for any tangible evidence of progress with his Armagh team.

Regardless of his near 'untouchable' status in Armagh, Kieran will know himself that the championship performances under his stewardship have not been acceptable.

Depending on the strength of conviction within the corridors of power in Armagh, his position could be under question if a lengthy run in the qualifiers isn't achieved.

 

Our games are not perfect but they’re cleaner than most

Brendan O’Sullivan must be cursing Aidan O’Shea for taking a break from the spotlight after the week he just put in. Having thrust myself front and centre of the debate with my column last week, I couldn’t shy away from a closing comment this week.

For me, the question is not now whether ‘doping’ exists in the GAA. By the crude definition some choose to term a ‘doper’ obviously it is naïve to think that it doesn’t exist to some extent. The question we should ask is whether it exists to an extent that it should be considered a major problem.

Can we trust and believe in what we see on our screens and from the terraces each weekend? Of the 30 fastest 100m times ever, only nine were achieved by a clean athlete. Do I look at those on the podium at the end of every GAA season and question whether the use of PEDs has played a major part in their success? I honestly do not.

There isn’t a sport in the world that isn’t impacted to some extent by the nefarious influence of PEDs. Without throwing mud at other sports, simple google searches will give you and array of examples of how science has contrived to provide those who want to cheat in their chosen sport with the appropriate means to do so. Those in which there is a clear link between the influence PEDs can have on performance, and the associated wealth success can bring, are at the greatest risk.

The lines drawn by the anti-doping authorities are in many ways relatively clear. Yet in sport, as in every walk of life, vast amounts of money have the power to blur, contort or even erase the clearest of lines, and for me this is why the GAA will hopefully stay largely exempt from the doping problems infecting so many other sports.

GAA and its players cannot expect to stay exempt from the reality that in every sport, some athletes will make bad choices, and turn to whatever means they can in pursuit of an advantage over opponents. I brought my eldest son Cailean to his first GAA nursery training last week; I did so because I believe the GAA, as much as it possibly can be, is as clean and honest a sporting environment as there is I could hope for him to be involved in.

In the wake of Brendan O’Sullivan’s case, the vitriol displayed by some this week in taking down the GAA a peg or two has done nothing to dissuade me of this belief.

Irish Independent

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