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Armagh star McGeeney stares into the abyss as a boss

By Declan Bogue

When the Armagh county board sent out a statement confirming the worst-kept secret in the GAA in late August 2014, that Kieran McGeeney was to succeed Paul Grimley as manager, there was no shortage of bombast.

"The County Board hope that under Kieran McGeeney's leadership this promising team can achieve the success yearned for by the county and its loyal supporters.

"McGeeney captained the Armagh team when they won the All Ireland Senior Football inter-county championship in 2002.

'He won six Ulster titles during his 15-year playing career and also represented and captained Ireland in the International Rules."

And then the kicker, the final line: "Armagh's new managerial appointment will be for a fixed term of five years."

In the history of GAA managements, this was unprecedented. Five years? At the time, it was seen as a sign of their ambition, bolstered further by a number of big name appointments with their 'Orchard Academy' squads, such as McGeeney's 2002 All-Ireland winning team mates Paul McGrane, Aidan O'Rourke, Paddy McKeever and Steven McDonnell.

But in year four, they will begin life as a Division Three side.

They have won one Championship game, in the back door against Wicklow. Last year, they gained the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to lose three times in the Championship with their game against Laois being ordered to be replayed because of Laois' poor accountancy with their subs.

In Ulster, Armagh keep finding new ways to lose.

Totally undercooked for the challenge of Donegal in 2015, they placed a novice in goal for last year's visit to Cavan in Breffni Park and were hounded out of the place.

Last Sunday, McGeeney wasn't on the touchline for the defeat to Down, serving a 12-week suspension for incidents arising out of their combustible league fixture against Antrim.

How it ended, with Armagh allowing themselves to get dragged into a wrestling match, was just the latest display of indiscipline from a team that repeatedly indulge in overtly macho displays.

However, McGeeney has enjoyed a good relationship with his county board, most notably Chairman Paul McArdle who went out to bat for McGeeney on RTE's The Sunday Game last year and rubbished some spurious criticisms of his manager.

He is also highly active in fund-raising for the county, creating a culture where the senior team is all but 'cost-neutral' for the county board, which is a dream scenario for them.

Asked about the county board last summer, McGeeney showed that the admiration flows both ways in saying: "They are very progressive, there is great work being done in the academy structures although we haven't had much success at under-age we are definitely going in the right direction."

In McGeeney's 10th consecutive year involved in inter-county management, he stands on a threshold after being drawn against Fermanagh in the qualifiers. If Fermanagh lose, then Pete McGrath's term in charge has probably come to a natural end anyway.

If Armagh lose, then the irreversible reputational damage will be done. What might save him is what will undoubtedly be a reluctance among the clubs to dismiss their only All-Ireland winning captain.

For people of a certain age, McGeeney's lack of success as a manager is a disappointment and a slight bewilderment.

Somewhere along the way though, this incarnation of him as Armagh manager has not worked out.

He has always wanted to be the man in the arena. It partly explains that when his football career ended, he tinkered with the idea of taking up boxing, but settled on the more strategic Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.

If there is a comparison with another man who has struggled to be a manager, it is with Roy Keane.

Great captains, loners that found it in themselves to be the ultimate unselfish team players.

Both who felt burned by the managers that they achieved their ultimate success under.

But as managers, both men have fallen way short of their own expectations.

What happens next, with McGeeney and Keane, is always the fascination.

Belfast Telegraph

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