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Kieran McGeeney is backed to improve youthful Armagh

By Declan Bogue

Armagh selector Peter McDonnell has jumped to the defence of under-fire manager Kieran McGeeney, rejecting his assertion after the 3-18 to 0-10 defeat to Cavan that: "I mustn't be doing the right thing with them for them to perform like that."

On considering McGeeney's comments, he said of his Mullaghbawn clubmate: "Well, I wouldn't agree with that. That's a man who is absolutely and totally committed to the betterment of Armagh football, the betterment of himself as a person, the betterment of everyone around him."

There is a palpable sense of panic among Armagh followers after the first four games of the National League. After defeats to Meath and Laois, it appeared they had steadied the ship with a stunning late victory over Fermanagh, but last weekend's defeat to Cavan has led to considerable soul-searching.

A 17-point defeat to future Ulster Championship opponents is certainly a worrying prospect, but McGeeney might draw upon the experiences of 2014. After losing by 24 points to Tyrone in the Dr McKenna Cup at Healy Park, they later beat the Red Hands at the same venue in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

McDonnell, who was county manager in 2008 and 2009, leading Armagh to their last provincial title in his debut year, is under no doubt about the talent at their disposal.

"These are only youngsters," he said.

"How many clubs come to you and say, 'listen, we won the county minor Championship last three years, and we are heading into Division One and the future is going to be bright?'"

He added: "Kieran has a lot of good, young footballers there. Like 'Soupy' (Stefan) Campbell, to use him as an example, standing head and shoulders above everyone else now because he is a man. He is a county senior player.

"Kieran, or no other manager, can take no responsibility for a natural evolutionary process. A maturation process. They are just at the wrong point at this time.

"But, it will happen. He has to persevere, and he has got to be let persevere. That's the most important thing."

When the former Kildare manager came back to his native county, he had one year as a selector before graduating to the management hot seat. Together with the county board, they agreed a five-year arrangement, popularly-believed to be the longest such management term granted in Gaelic games.

McDonnell believes that such long-term thinking is essential. Since the departure of Joe Kernan, who ended a six-year term after the 2007 Championship, McDonnell himself, Paddy O'Rourke and Paul Grimley have all been in the hot seat.

Only McDonnell has delivered an Ulster title, which would have been seen as only the start of their aspirations for the previous decade.

Unusual as it was, McDonnell believes the five-year arrangement was essential.

"It think it had to happen. Armagh was in a state of flux there for a number of years. It needs continuity and security," he said.

"There needs to be an environment that is secured from the rigours that in a number of incidences, county managers are exposed to.

"What does every new manager do? He brings in his own men and he gets rid of everything the last man did, good and bad.

"Successive managers in Armagh have got rid of lads that time and effort had been invested in, a maturation process, and they disappear.

"And they go back and start from square one again, as if they are going to find and unearth some magical character that is going to change everything for them. Nonsense.

"Where Kieran McGeeney is at, is a painful place at the moment. But where Armagh is at, is a state of evolution, walking towards something. Those lads will come good."

Belfast Telegraph


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