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GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.
GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.

Column: Rory Kavanagh on Football


By Rory Kavanagh

There was something about Armagh last Saturday evening at Croke Park. The atmosphere was fantastic, Kieran McGeeney has really galvanised Armagh. You see teams that are sort of mirrors of their manager; Armagh are starting to show that resilience, commitment, pride in the jersey, all of McGeeney’s hallmarks.

Armagh’s game with Kildare was brilliant from the first minute until the last they were just playing on the edge. Battles were being fought all over the field between James Morgan and Daniel Flynn at one end and at the other end Kildare appeared to put three different players on Jamie Clarke at different stages. None of them could handle him.

The goalkeeper, Blaine Hughes, was the unsung hero. When we were analysing him for The Sunday Game at the weekend, he had 25 restarts, Armagh won 21 of them, that is an 84% success rate - that is up near Stephen Cluxton's figures, which is phenomenal in a big pressure game where there wasn't much between the teams. He was very cool and composed picking out his men.

Niall Grimley and Stephen Sheridan in the middle of the park have been a phenomenal partnership. Go back to their first game against Down, that wasn't the original partnership then so McGeeney has been learning about his team. Improvements have been made.

At one stage Kevin Feely had an effort from a free about 30 yards out to level up the game in the second half. He put it wide, the next thing Armagh went up the field to get a big booming score from Ethan Rafferty. It looked as if the whole place was full of Armagh supporters.

Armagh have nothing to lose, they will definitely tap into that sort of energy and their supporters cannot be underestimated now. They will travel to Croke Park in their thousands this weekend and they'll really get behind the team.

Now there is genuine excitement in Armagh because they are seeing the makings of a very, very good team.

Gavin McParland has really come in under the radar this year too, he was a brilliant foil for Jamie Clarke. McParland kicked three points from play so there is excitement there and the Armagh supporters can go to Croke Park in optimistic mood.

No matter what happens they have given them a real sense of joy from that game against Kildare.

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney celebrates following the Round 4B Qualifier win over Kildare.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney celebrates following the Round 4B Qualifier win over Kildare.

A connection has been forged between the team and their supporters. It is something a player will always notice.

With Donegal we trained in different places around the county. You would notice that during the successful years crowd were turning up to watch you train.

It got to a stage where we had to go behind closed doors because there were too many people coming, but throughout the county it was the first thing on everybody's lips, whether it was a local village or in a big town. Everyone was talking about the game. There was no word of a recession or anything just how we were going to get on at the weekend.

You can sense that Armagh can tap into a bit of that because people are taking note of this young, up and coming team. They have produced in a big game in Croke Park so they can be carried along on that wave for the Tyrone game.

It is something McGeeney and his players will feel - that sense of support that is behind them.

The key word is momentum and Armagh have built that, look at the win over Tipperary where they snatched it late. Last weekend's game was in the melting pot, but they managed to dig it out, to find a way. That gives teams like Armagh huge self-belief.

Still Armagh are up against a different animal when it comes to Tyrone, they are up against arguably the best defensive structure left in the competition.

A problem is that Tyrone are also hurting after getting to the Quarter-Final last year and falling flat against Mayo. Tyrone will want to rectify that. You can be sure Jamie Clarke and Gavin McParland won't be given the same room.

You would have to question Kildare's approach to the game when Clarke had three different markers. Kildare let Armagh dink quality possession be dinked in front of him and he was also able to come on the loop to take and set-up scores.

If Armagh can bring the same intensity levels they can keep the game competitive, but they might find some of their key men shut-out. Tyrone are masters at that, at forcing teams into making mistakes.

Philly McMahon is one of the top players in the game.
Philly McMahon is one of the top players in the game.

Monaghan need to take the next step

The next progression step for Monaghan is to win a Quarter-Final at Croke Park. The more times you get to that stage, to experience it, is beneficial, but Dublin remain a brilliant outfit.

Monaghan are up against the All Ireland champions, arguably the best team of their generation. It is going to be very difficult because watching Monaghan this year, they are still over reliant on the two Hughes’ and Conor McManus. That trio are basically supplying everything in terms of scoring taking, fielding ability and direct running at the opposition.

If they are shut out of the game you are wondering have they got it in the other lines.

Drew Wylie was under enormous pressure against Connaire Harrison, now they are up against six Connaire Harrison's and more to come off the bench. This is a significant problem.

Then they have the Cluxton dilemma. They were letting Down get short kickout after short kickout. Who can crack Cluxton? Kerry, for me, are the best to crack him, but Monaghan are going to be under serious pressure if they allow possession after possession to come from Cluxton.

Dublin will come at you, wave after wave. Now it seems that Dublin enjoy playing against the blanket. Dublin see it as another challenge, of working it out, trying to break through that wall. Monaghan are going to need the game of their lives. You just cannot see it happening.

Monaghan cannot concede goals early like Kildare did, if you don't concede goals against Dublin you give yourself a chance going down the stretch. That is what Malachy O'Rourke and Ryan Porter will be targeting, to be within a point or two with 10 or 15 minutes to go. That is what they will be targeting.

Some pressure may build, but Dublin have such strength in depth that it is going to be very difficult for Monaghan to overcome.

Lee Keegan, Mayo, and Roscommon manager Kevin McStay following the drawn game at Croke Park.
Lee Keegan, Mayo, and Roscommon manager Kevin McStay following the drawn game at Croke Park.

Mayo should edge replay

Replays are all about who has learned lessons from the drawn match. From a Roscommon point of view Kevin McStay will be trying to figure the best way to get Enda Smith into the game.

Lee Keegan dominated that encounter, scoring 1-3. McStay did switch Smith to full forward which negated Keegan's influence in the second half. Mayo will be looking at that if Smith goes in there.

Mayo have plenty of players that can do a job on him if he is there. You could see it in Keegan's body language, he was running forward to halfway, the next thing he was stopping, looking over his shoulder wondering if Smith would be picked up.

Stephen Rochford will have to think long and hard about it because Keegan needs a licence to go at Roscommon. He is the one man in the prime of his career that can continue to bring the fight, who has score taking ability, and can continually ask questions. You don't need him in the full back line, Mayo have enough players that can do that.

Aidan O'Shea didn't really have a big game, Cillian O'Connor was very quiet, a lot of the Mayo players, I expect to improve. Definitely there is a question over their reserves of energy, this will be Mayo's seventh game, two of them have went to extra-time.

Question marks exist whether they can sustain their push because at some stage they are going to fall flat. They may do enough to get over Roscommon, but Kerry will be waiting for them. Kerry haven't got out of third gear.

I fancy Mayo with their experience. Roscommon were 2-2 to 0-1 ahead, but they showed a little lack of guile by letting Mayo get a goal and to tag on a few points. Roscommon kicked away possession in the second half, McStay will be looking for a huge improvement in that department.

Rory Gallagher stepped down as Donegal manager on Monday evening.
Rory Gallagher stepped down as Donegal manager on Monday evening.

Rory Gallagher’s departure

Rory Gallagher's departure as Donegal manager has dominated the headlines up in the Hills.

It will be interesting to see who succeeds him, but Rory has been involved with Donegal since 2011 and he has more or less devoted seven years of his life to Donegal football.

Undoubtedly it is a critical time for Donegal with the new Championship structure arriving in 2018. Ensuring Donegal reach the All Ireland Quarter-Final stage will be vital from both a financial and squad development perspective.

Rory has put in a massive effort, he deserves a lot of respect and credit for what he did for all of us.

During the last couple of years he has tried his best with a young and inexperienced team. It is disappointing that he is gone, hopefully whoever Donegal get in commits to a long term three or four year plan because there is no quick fix.

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