Steven McDonnell has joined the chorus of voices calling for either Tony McEntee or Kieran McGeeney to be appointed as the next Armagh manager, but added that a change in attitude is required to take Armagh back to the top.
McDonnell was in Croke Park for the launch of the ‘Round the Square’ website magazine of gaa.ie, and when quizzed on his preferred choice of the next Armagh manager he said: “There are two candidates that stand out, Tony McEntee is the obvious one, I know he's come out and ruled himself out and he's ruled himself out for good reason, he wants to be part of a Crossmaglen team that wins a three in a row and that's a perfectly good reason.
“The other outstanding candidate of course is Kieran McGeeney. We all know what he was like as a player and a leader, and he's done a fantastic job with Kildare as well. When you talk to people within Armagh, the two names being shouted out are Tony McEntee and Kieran McGeeney (pictured; McEntee left) and I'm no different.” With McEntee committed to Crossmaglen and McGeeney with Kildare, there are a number of outsiders that he feels could acquit themselves well. “You have other ex-players like Justin McNulty who is with Laois, you've Aidan O'Rourke involved with Down, Paul Grimley is another man who was involved in the backroom team this year,” he added.
“They've all got a lot of experience and potentially could go in and do a good job, but the two stand-out performers at the minute are still Tony McEntee and Kieran McGeeney.”
On Aidan O’Rourke, a name which had been immediately thrown into the mix following his namesake’s departure, Down midfielder Kalum King pulls no punches in his assessment of the former Armagh All-Ireland winner’s value to the Mourne county as preparations for their forthcoming Ulster final are stepped up.
“We are very fortunate in that our management team of James McCartan and Aidan O’Rourke are both All-Ireland winners with their counties and you can’t get a higher pedigree than that,” states King.
“I think that the mindset which they have instilled in us was never more reflected than when we beat Monaghan in the semi-final. To be nine points down and yet come out on top shows the way in which they have got us thinking and believing in ourselves.”
Back in Armagh, while the subject of Crossmaglen’s success has been cited as a possible reason for Armagh’s non-performance in the Championship over the last few seasons, McDonnell feels that the county team should weave in more players from the club and plug into their spirit.
“It should be an advantage to Armagh football that Crossmaglen are doing so well,” he said. “Everybody in the country is in awe of Crossmaglen, so why are they not in awe of Armagh football? We should be taking those players in and putting arms around them, and trying to play to the system that they play and that works for them.
“If it works for them, it should
work for Armagh as a county as well,” continued McDonnell. “You look at the set-up that Crossmaglen have put in place in the last few years, they were winning All-Irelands many years ago as well it's only really in the last couple of years that they've become so professional in their approach and how they set themselves up. A lot of that has to do with Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill as well.
“But I certainly believe that Crossmaglen, the way they go about their business, are extremely professional and that's the way Armagh should be thinking as well.”
Looking back on last Sunday’s drab defeat to Roscommon, McDonnell reflected an assertion made by Paddy Bradley on Derry’s demise; that the best players are not all playing for the county team when he said: “I don’t believe that it was the best Armagh team on the pitch. I do believe there are still capable Armagh players that are not even in the squad.
“Sometimes it’s hard to call when you’re watching from the outside and it’s very easy for us to say the best Armagh players weren’t on the pitch. But you have to look at Crossmaglen’s record over the last two years. They’ve been very successful, they’ve won two All-Irelands in a row and you don’t win two All-Irelands in a row having bad players in your set-up.
“Certainly, I would like to have seen a few more starting, because they have a winning mentality. I’m not saying that they are better players than the players who started for Armagh last week but they have a mentality to go there and they believe in themselves.”
McDonnell has always maintained that the players are there now to make a big impression with Armagh, but their belief is lacking. Drawing comparisons with the players from the All-Ireland winning team of 2002, he said: “I don’t think the players that are there are at the same level that the players were 10 years ago. We had some driven men 10 years — Kieran McGeeney, Paul McGrane, the McEntee twins, the McNultys, Oisin McConville... they were seriously driven men.
“The players in Armagh have ability and there are fantastic players coming through. But maybe it’s their attitude and application as much as anything that isn’t getting them across the line.”