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Ex-skipper Smyth leaps to defence of Orchard's McGeeney

By Declan Bogue

Former Armagh All-Ireland final captain Jimmy Smyth has described under-fire current manager Kieran McGeeney as "easy meat', stating that the personal attacks on him "are nothing short of a disgrace," ahead of their controversial replay this weekend against Laois.

In recent weeks McGeeney has shipped criticism from pundits who have claimed that he cannot work with players from Crossmaglen, leading to a right to reply on The Sunday Game highlights show by county chairman, Paul McArdle.

However Smyth, who captained the Orchard county to the 1977 All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin, answers that assertion.

"People talk about Armagh players not willing to put themselves out, I mean James Morgan put off an operation so he could bloody play!" said the Clann na Gael man.

"There are some very good footballers within Armagh. As well as that, and when you start quoting this is looks like excuses, but the amount of injuries they have. Like Ciaran McKeever going over on his ankle in a club match in Dublin and now that's him out.

"You have Ethan Rafferty who is injured, and then Caolan Rafferty who works for First Derivatives who moved out of the country. And any time McGeeney looks as if he is doing something, there is another person away."

Smyth offers an alternative view that the players within the county are either not there at present, or need time to mature. Either way, he believes the arguments over the manager to be misleading and pointless.

"Because it's Kieran McGeeney, you have a winner, an All-Ireland champion, an All-Ireland captain, someone who has been in different places, played with a certain style and all the rest of it, he is easy meat," says Smyth.

"Some of the personal attacks on him are nothing short of a disgrace. Totally unwarranted. Like, you don't do that sort of talk because once you do that sort of talk you are removing the argument from the point you are trying to make and you are personalising it. People lose the whole sense of what you are trying to say."

While making the point that a run in the qualifiers could help the maturing of players such as Jemar Hall, Smyth believes that even if Armagh's involvement in the All-Ireland series ends in Portlaoise, the future of McGeeney is assured.

"In Armagh football we have had highs and lows," he explains. "The highs came when we had a very good group of players who happened to come together at the right time. Then, we went through a rebuilding process.

"We had another peak in '77 when we won the Ulster title and got to an All-Ireland final and that kept going until about 1983. If you look at Armagh from that period in '83 to '99, they never won an Ulster final.

"After they were beaten in 1998, there was a committee formed by Seamus King to look at the state of Armagh football, and for Armagh to win an All-Ireland within ten years - and four years later Armagh won the All-Ireland.

"But to do that, there was a group of players who came together, who had been there at under-21s and minors. They all came together and they won more Ulster Championships (7) between '99 and 2008, than they won in the previous 100 years."

ARMAGH: P Morrison; S Heffron, B Donaghy, J McElroy; S Connell, A Mallon, S Sheridan; C Vernon, A Findon; T Kernan, R Grugan, A Forker; N Grimley, S Campbell, M McKenna

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