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McGeeney puts ref in the big game spotlight

Let's get physical, insists Armagh boss

By John Campbell

The level of physicality in the Ulster senior football championship is about to be stepped up - but suggestions that Sunday's eagerly-awaited Armagh v Donegal clash will be nothing more than a sustained war of attrition are wide of the mark, according to orchard county boss Kieran McGeeney.

While games in the competition to date have been hard-hitting affairs, it is being predicted that the meeting of the reigning Ulster champions and the side that heaped continuous heartbreak on them from 2004 to 2010 will take intensity into a different sphere.

But McGeeney, conscious that the provincial series here comes under ongoing microscopic examination from a sceptical national media, rubbishes the theory that the competition tends to be spliced with acrimony and controversy.

"The problem as I see it is that physicality in Ulster is viewed in a different way from the rest of the country," maintains McGeeney.

"Indeed, I think this is seen more as a 'northern' thing - we may as well call it that - than an Ulster thing. But you look at the Kerry v Mayo All-Ireland semi-final replay last year.

"I think that all games should be played like that but nobody referees a game in that manner and that's the sticking point. We're not allowed to play, like that.

"Yet there was a row in that match, there were bibs turned off team officials, there were lads thrown over signs, there were all sorts of things happening and not a dicky bird about it."

"But sure it was great football - the best game of the year by far."

"I think things were looked at in a different way there than maybe if it had happened in Ulster."

And McGeeney contends that top-level hurling is played with the same intensity without incurring censure from the media.

"In fairness to hurlers, they take their hits but get up and get on with it and don't look for frees. But in football if a player lies down while holding onto an opponent's arm he gets a free straight away," states McGeeney.

"I think football should be played the way hurling is played. People think I am being derogatory when I take this point of view but I assure you that I am not. In fact, I am being the opposite."

"I always enjoyed playing against teams like Kerry and Dublin down the country because I definitely think that the matches were refereed differently.

"People get mixed up between physicality and dirt but basically it comes down to what the referee allows to go.

"You can say what you like but the fact of the matter is that we don't have the rules to play the game the way it should be played - it's as simple as that."

McGeeney is hoping that there won't be what he terms "another Monday morning debate" on the referee's performance following his team's clash with Donegal.

David Coldrick, who has taken charge of All-Ireland finals in the recent past and is regarded as one of the top whistlers in the country, will be the man in the middle at the Athletic Grounds.

But McGeeney feels that in spite of his impressive credentials the Meath man will have a tough task on his hands.

"If every foul that takes place in a game were to be blown up, then we would have a stoppage every 10 or 15 seconds," adds McGeeney. "We need to change the rules. Even in suggesting this, people will think I want thuggery and I want this and that.

"It's not like that. I've always felt that people have to understand what type of game they want to see. If it's going to be physical, then let it be physical."

"Sometimes now we come away from games thinking 'God, I would have been better at home watching Eastenders than that."

"There are bad games every year and these tend to engender mass hysteria but there are some clinkers too."

On Sunday, his Armagh side will be the last Ulster team to taste championship action and while they have had to exercise patience before getting the chance to flex their muscles, this has afforded players such as Kevin Dyas, Stefan Campbell, Michael Murray and Caolan Rafferty to get back to full fitness.

Donegal manager Rory Gallagher is hoping Martin McElhinney will have an input into the Athletic Grounds showdown following his viral infection while Eamon Doherty is also hoping to get game time.

Mark McHugh, Andrew Thompson and David Walsh are other Donegal players who are keen to make an impact having for the most part missed out on Allianz League action.

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