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Kieran McGeeney's record speaks for itself

By Declan Bogue

Tonight barring a natural disaster that prevents delegates from attending the county board meeting, Kieran McGeeney will be confirmed as the new Armagh manager.

It's an appointment that comes at the right time for all parties.

For McGeeney, he has gained six full seasons as an inter-county manager of Kildare. He knows what it takes and is seasoned in all aspects of fulfilling the role.

This season, he has been working with two teams that have delivered to their potential; the Armagh footballers and Tipperary hurlers.

In Armagh, his influence has been astonishing.

Pre-McGeeney, Armagh were playing an all-out attack game that left them on the end of some embarrassing scorelines.

With McGeeney, they have not been found wanting on a tactical level in this year's Championship, even coming within minutes of knocking Donegal out in Croke Park.

It really is that stark.

Every player likes a manager that is a 'Player's Man' and McGeeney, with his long record of harmony in Kildare, is just that.

He inspired his panel to take ownership of their county team and they responded by driving their own fundraising through white-collar boxing events and the like.

When they came to kit out the gym at their Hawkfield Complex, it was the players themselves who carried out the work.

One of his strengths is that he empowers those around him.

It therefore came as no surprise when after he was forced out of Kildare, the players released a statement that they 'express extreme frustration and disappointment at the sacking of our manager', and called for his immediate reinstatement.

This season, players such as Stefan Campbell have established themselves as not only regulars on the team, but as top-level footballers in the country.

When Campbell reflected on the season, he said: "McGeeney's impact has been unreal. I thanked him after the Donegal game because I think he deserves more credit than anyone for the improvements I've shown.

"He came in this year and made me feel like an All-Star from day one.

"There wasn't a week that went by when he wasn't challenging me."

When he took over Kildare, they weren't part of the conversation. By the time he left, his final year was the only one he did not bring them as far as the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

No coincidence that Armagh got there this summer.

As well as the obvious management skills he brings, there is the unifying effect that such a figure can have in his own county.

As captain of the 2002 All-Ireland winning team, McGeeney is iconic in Armagh in a way that Jimmy Barry-Murphy is in Cork.

He is Mister Right, and Mister Right-Now for the fans.

While they will be cock-a-hoop with this, there are some in the county who will have a measure of trepidation.

During McGeeney's time in charge of Kildare, the players of the county had little dealings with their clubs.

In the end, he was voted out by club delegates not because of dissatisfaction in his performance, but because of the unavailability of their players.

It's becoming the same everywhere, but to give an example, Crossmaglen Rangers won the Armagh league a fortnight ago.

They have six county players in James Morgan, Aaron and Tony Kernan, Kyle Carragher, Jamie Clarke and Paul Hughes.

They only played in two – TWO – games the entire campaign.

And you can't lay this scenario at the door of inter-county managers. That's just the way it is everywhere and it is a responsibility of the games' administrators.

Club volunteers now rear their players the same way Irish families reared their children in the 1940s – trying their best, but knowing one day they would have to emigrate and they would only be temporarily re-united.

So when McGeeney is confirmed as the new Armagh manager, where does that leave Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill, who indulged in a little hem-raising in front of Down last week?

McEntee is currently managing St Brigid's in Dublin, but it's only a rebound relationship after leading Cross to two All-Ireland club titles.

The duo also realise that McGeeney is a long-haul man, and surely two men of such ambition need to test themselves at the highest level; Down can make this happen.

In Donegal, the popular theory is that this is Jim McGuinness' final year.

His departure would almost certainly alter the landscape in Ulster as the champions may have to get used to an entirely different way of doing things after having played under such a commanding figure, along with a number of natural retirements.

If that does happen, we could be looking at the Ulster sidelines next year being walked by Malachy O'Rourke, Kieran McGeeney, Tony McEntee with Gareth O'Neill, Mickey Harte with a new backroom team and Brian McIver.

Excited already.

Belfast Telegraph

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