Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Armagh show credentials for seismic all-Ulster quarter-final

Armagh 0-18 - Meath 0-13

Rain on: Mark Shields of Armagh battles with Mikey Burke of Meath

At the final whistle, Armagh manager Paul Grimley turned to his assistant Kieran McGeeney and they embraced each other.

They had much to thank each other for. The last time their county won a Championship game in Croke Park was the 2006 Ulster final over Donegal, temporarily re-housed in headquarters during that heady period. McGeeney was captain, Grimley was a selector.

Now, they have the pleasure of facing Donegal again on Saturday in Croke Park (throw-in 4pm).

You could say the roles have been reversed in terms of their standing in the game, yet they have not met in championship football since Donegal finally landed a win in the 2007 Ulster series in Ballybofey. There will be so much undercurrent it will be hard not to get swept away.

Throughout his playing career, and indeed those of others in his management team such as Paul McGonigle, Damien Diver and John Duffy, Jim McGuinness was plagued by Armagh. Any time they looked like doing something, that big Orange obstacle was in their way.

Armagh are not the last remaining opponents McGuinness would want to fell, but they are there to be beaten all the same.

And Armagh will present as worthy opponents. Since implementing their siege mentality as illustrated by their media boycott maintained here by management, along with a blanket defence featuring two sweepers, they have become a team to be taken seriously.

On the half hour mark, they were on their way to inflicting a Dublin-style defeat on Meath, having hit eight consecutive points to answer Meath's brace.

Then Meath, inspired by Graham Reilly stinging from being left out of the starting line-up, came back at them. They figured the best way around a packed defence is over it, levelling early in the second half.

But Armagh accounted for seven of the next nine points. Aaron Kernan weighed in with two and began a move finished by his brother Tony. Mark Shields clipped another. Stefan Campbell and Aidan Forker hit three points from play each.

Brian Mallon was held back for most of this year but when introduced showed his experience with two timely points. Meath had no answer at all to the team play of Armagh. Such is the way in the modern world.

The Royals were dashed by an organised defence and Armagh were uncanny in finding a way to win.

It's simplified when you know what you are doing. When Armagh have restarts, they look for the short pass.If it is not on, they keep serious width in the pitch.

When Meath had the ball, Aidan Forker played as an auxiliary wing-back, covering the left-half back slot. Aaron Kernan then picked up Bryan McMahon, allowing Forker and Brendan Donaghy to sweep.

Forker may have been guilty of a wide and a few shots dropped short, but this can be excused as it can take a while to work out the dimensions of Croke Park.

The fact the ball was heavy on a day wetter than an otter's pocket cannot be discounted either.

Meath's tendency to hit high ball in towards the Bray brothers and Mickey Newman was fruitless, Charlie Vernon turning in his best performance yet at full-back, while the constant support of Andy Mallon and Mark Shields distorted Meath's defensive shape.

Mick O'Dowd said little enough about Armagh afterwards, but did venture this: "Armagh were set up pretty defensively well, and we were finding it hard to get shots away.

"In the opening 20 minutes we were kicking away a lot of ball which we tried to eliminate in the second half but it's a disappointing day. You have to give credit to Armagh."

More on the next game. McGeeney and McGuinness have previous, which got a bit personal in 2011 with the All-Ireland quarter-final meeting between Donegal and Kildare.

Stories appeared that morning in the paper with a Kildare selector raising concerns about Donegal's "professional fouls."

In the post-match interview, McGuinness said, "Kieran McGeeney was a phenomenal player. He didn't cry, he didn't whinge and we weren't very impressed by that as a group to read that and to see that."

McGeeney retorted, "You just have to watch the game. Every team fouls one way or the other, Jim knows where I am if he wants to chat to me. That's childish and Jim should know better."

They made nice with each other in the TV studios for the Tyrone v Mayo All-Ireland semi-final last year as visiting pundits, but are different animals on the sideline. Ulster comes to Croker once again. The Armagh side will be fresh after winning pulling up. Prepare for a defensive masterclass.

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; J Morgan, C Vernon, A Mallon; M Shields (0-1), B Donaghy, A Kernan (0-2); S Harold, A Findon; A Forker (0-3), K Dyas (0-1), S Campbell (0-3); K Carragher (0-1), J Clarke (0-1), T Kernan (0-3, 2f). Subs: M Murray for Morgan (h-time), R Grugan for Carragher (55m), B Mallon (0-2), for Forker (59m), S Forker (0-1), for T Kernan, F Moriarty for Donaghy (68m).

Yellow cards: Harold (3m), Findon (38m)

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

MEATH: P O'Rourke (0-2, 2f); M Burke, D Keogan, D Tobin; B Menton, P Harnan, B Meade; S O'Rourke, A Flanagan; D Carroll (0-1), B McMahon, A Tormey (0-1); D Bray (0-2), 1f, S Bray, M Newman (0-4, 3f, 1x45). Subs: G Reilly (0-3), for Meade (31m), E Harrington for Carroll (51m), D McDonagh for S Bray (58m), J Wallace for D Bray (59m), P Gilsenan for McDonagh (63m), Meade for S O'Rourke (65m)

Yellow cards: S O'Rourke (38m)

Black cards: 0

Red cards: 0

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare)

Attendance: 26,584.

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