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Former Armagh stars urge fans to maintain belief in McGeeney

Smyth and McKeever defend boss after heavy loss

By Declan Bogue

Published 16/06/2015

Harsh lesson: Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh were thumped by Donegal but Paddy McKeever says his old team-mate is the man to steer the ship
Harsh lesson: Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh were thumped by Donegal but Paddy McKeever says his old team-mate is the man to steer the ship

The criticism from the RTÉ studios may have been fierce on Sunday as Donegal set about dismantling Armagh by 2-11 to 0-8, but two former Orchard County stars have stated that manager Kieran McGeeney should be afforded patience.

Prior to the game's broadcast, RTÉ pundit Pat Spillane said that Armagh would run Donegal very close, while Joe Brolly estimated the gap would be two points in Donegal's favour at the end.

By half-time their mood had changed. Brolly suggested that McGeeney had never managed an inter-county team to a meaningful victory, including his time in charge of Kildare.

Separately, Spillane suggested that the current Armagh team had the most lavishly-funded preparation of any county in the game.

He also mentioned bleep tests and bench-pressing, methods that have long been out of date in the preparation of inter-county football.

However, Armagh's 1977 All-Ireland final captain, Jimmy Smyth, responded to the jibe about Armagh's 'lavish preparations'. He said: "It's just hype. Don't forget, this is coming from the man who advertised washing machines.

"Kerry were getting sponsorship before others knew what it was." (Kerry footballers took part in a then-controversial marketing campaign in 1985).

Reminding us that Spillane's native Kerry incorporate a warm-weather training camp in the Algarve as they gear up for the Munster Championship each summer, Smyth continued: "It's all relative. I think Armagh went away for a weekend, a couple of weekends might have been the most of it.

"The time to judge Armagh's performance is after Donegal play Derry. I think that Derry and Armagh are two teams in transition, whereas Donegal are the completely finished article."

Smyth admitted to being seriously impressed with Donegal's heavy win, but pointed to the victors as a team who are at the height of their powers, having recently dismissed Tyrone in the preliminary round.

"Don't forget, this is a Donegal team who last year were seriously close to winning an All-Ireland," Smyth reminded us. "They are coming back strongly from that. They have a new manager who is trying to stamp his identity on the whole thing. For some of the Donegal boys, it's going to be their last hurrah.

"Donegal went sailing up and down the line and scored two points from either side of the field through Karl Lacey and Odhrán MacNiallais and it was just the perfect re-enactment of a training session where the ball was moved along at speed. It was perfect. A masterclass."

He compared that to Armagh's build-up coming into the Championship, stating: "I never heard of any terribly upset Armagh fans. I think they realised there was a gulf between the two teams.

"Armagh came out of Division Three this year straight into the Championship. At the back of everybody's mind, they knew Armagh were in Division Three.

"All our players who played well last year were getting crocked this year, especially Stefan Campbell. And don't forget that Armagh had been Donegal's nemesis for so long that this was their opportunity to get their own back.

"It was their chance to get them back for all those defeats in Ulster and in Croke Park."

Armagh now get a chance to atone for the defeat when they host Wicklow - beaten 2-19 to 3-12 by Meath on Sunday - at The Athletic Grounds on Saturday, June 27 in the first round of the qualifiers.

McGeeney's former team-mate and fellow 2002 All-Ireland winner Paddy McKeever was an interested spectator on Sunday, and knows what McGeeney will concentrate on.

"This is where McGeeney will be strong with his man-management. The boys need him and he will be lifting them," said McKeever.

"He has been down this road before and before he had any success, he had plenty of hard times. It wasn't always playing Ulster and All-Ireland finals. He has been there before and seen it.

"There is a lot of support for Kieran and the whole county is behind the team and the right people are in charge."

Smyth added: "Wicklow will be saying that they scored 3-12 against Meath and will be looking at Armagh thinking they have a real chance. They will not come to lie down. But I wouldn't get too much into the doom and gloom."

Belfast Telegraph

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