Declan Bogue: Too many cooks spoiled Armagh's orchard
Whenever people from Crossmaglen talk immediately after winning something, it never rises above the usual truisms about hard work, collective effort and so on. That’s just how it is.
But when faced with defeat, their answers can be a million times more instructive. That’s why Aaron Kernan and Oisin McConville were so brilliantly concise and to the point on Armagh’s defeat to Roscommon.
Their theme was what many of us suspected for the last few years. When it comes to coaching field, there are too many strong personalities, all pushing for their own personal philosophies to be implemented. The main conflict lies between offensive football — where each man has a gun held to their head in terms of their own performance — and a sweeper system, which can muddy the waters in defence.
After the loss in Dr Hyde Park, Aaron Kernan conducted a radio interview and tried to put his finger on just how the Orchard County slipped so badly since the feisty display against Tyrone: “We went man to man [against Tyrone], we got good early ball up, like Oisin said in the last ten minutes we went with a target man, kicked a lot of ball in, but with Tyrone having a spare man it was coming back out at us as quick as it was going in. We lost a game that was there for the taking. Today we played with a sweeper we should have had 1-13 on the board by half-time. In the second half, the game turned against us, we couldn’t get up the field It progressively went from bad to worse.”
McConville asked his clubmate if the management made any changes as the game slipped away. Kernan replied; “We did, we put Charlie and Tony on, we had pushed up. Now, it took a while for boys to cop on what they were told to do and how to do it. Even at that, it wasn’t sufficient.
“I think you put intensity into men by going man for man. Playing sweeper, you’re not accountable, it’s easy to hide in those situations.”
This is not a new problem for Armagh. Last season, while working with Stevie McDonnell in the season diary, This Is Our Year, he revealed some telling instances of their tactical philosophy. They had just beaten Down in a pulsating match, but then flopped inexplicably to Derry in the Ulster semi-final.
His assessment was: “If you have a style of play that the management wants to get across and one player decides he’s not going to do it, then the whole thing falls down. I would say not everyone has bought into what Paddy [O’Rourke] is trying to get across.
“Against Down we went man for man and everybody knew what their job was and we got a performance and a result. In the Derry match we went in with the same tactics but I don’t believe that everybody bought into it. Man for man, against Down around the middle, was totally different than man for man against Derry.
“If a player doesn’t feel he’s good enough to go man for man at county level, he shouldn’t be there. That’s the reality of it. I think when teams play sweeper systems it’s passing the buck. I think it’s a cop-outYou need to be ballsy and stand up and play.”
Take the last ten years of Ulster football and name the top three managers. Mickey Harte and Joe Kernan are at the top, and Jim McGuinness is on his way into that bracket, possibly within the next few months.
Those three men have/had trusted confidants on the sideline, but the overall footballing philosophy is theirs alone. Tony Donnelly, Paul Grimley and Rory Gallagher are all respected coaches and bring serious knowledge in their own right, but their key role is one of sounding board, or filter for the manager.
During Paddy O’Rourke’s spell, he has been too generous with the remit of his backroom. Look at this list of coaches: Justin McNulty, Donal Murtagh, Paul Grimley, Sean O’Hare and Brendan Hughes.
All those ingredients together were always going to be a tad rich when thrown into the pot. At one stage, Armagh even had Mickey McGurn taking some football exercises, such was the elasticity of the set-up.
Paul McGrane and Oisin McConville were asked in to help with some specialist coaching before last year’s Down game.
They thought they were going in to do some walk-throughs for attacks, or kickouts. They ended up taking sessions from start to finish.
Donegal and Tyrone have streamlined set-ups, a clear vision for the players and no ego-battle on the sideline.
When Armagh come to pick their next manager, that’s exactly what they should look for.