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Orchardmen must learn to hold leads

 

Tough day: Aidan Forker was disappointed that Armagh let lead slip
Tough day: Aidan Forker was disappointed that Armagh let lead slip
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

When the Armagh management sits down to review the game from Sunday, one glaring facet of their play will hurt them like a persistent toothache.

Throughout Kieran McGeeney's time in charge, they have developed a growing issue with losing leads as the end of a game approaches.

Going back to 2017, they had a draw with Sligo in the league in a game they should have closed out. A last-minute goal by Tipperary denied them promotion from Division Three later that spring.

Go back a year before that and it was a fisted goal by Galway that sent them down in 2016.

It's something that haunted them in their first two league games this year against Kildare and Clare, which left them scrambling in the final games to preserve their Division Two status.

It's a nasty trait that has followed them into the Championship. Five points and a man up against Down, they were taken into extra-time in a Newry thriller. The same thing happened here as they surrendered a three-point lead despite once again being a man up after Ciaran Brady's dismissal.

"We have talked about it. Management have talked about it," said Aidan Forker, who performed brilliantly in almost entirely blotting out Cavan playmaker Martin Reilly.

"Kieran (McGeeney) always talks about how can we score more than other teams, not about how we contain them.

"I think it's the psychology of players that we just retreat a wee bit, take an extra step off them, invite them on. We saw with Cian Mackey, he has quality and the finishing, and it was a nice wind for him to kick ball within the final few scores."

The last time, Armagh clung on for dear life to beat Down in the quarter-final. On Sunday they couldn't quite repeat the trick and it left Forker scratching his head.

He added: "I can't help but feel slightly disappointed. I thought we grew into it. We knew we had the quality up front if we could get the ball to them.

"Yes, it was a tough sort of wind there and we maybe knocked a couple of pot shots that we shouldn't have taken. But we can learn from that and improve.

"That's what we will be looking at this week, there will not be much training done. There will be a lot of recovery done.

"I think the fact we played 90 minutes the last time, it stood to us. We went in at the end of the match there and said, 'we have been here before and they haven't'. I thought at times we did look stronger, although in the second half they penned us in a bit. It's going to be a lot harder to recover in a week than it had been in two weeks. It's a race against time to get fresh for next week."

While Armagh have indicated they will appeal the red card awarded to Brendan Donaghy in the closing moments of normal time, they are unlikely to be successful, and it would be surprising if he doesn't serve a suspension for the replay.

"We are still in the hat, we have only won one game and drawn one game in the Ulster Championship this year and we will look at what we can improve on.

"There are definitely areas for us to brush up on, in terms of our decision-making, for sure," said Forker, who praised this year's Championship debutants Rian O'Neill and Jarlath Og Burns, who have taken to this level with ease.

"I think those boys, Rian O'Neill, Jarly Og Burns and so on are quality footballers. All they want to do is play football. They are the first men on the training field and they love kicking it in and out to the goalkeepers and catching ball," Forker said.

On man of the match Burns, he added: "He's young, he's done a lot of training and is in great physical shape. We want boys like him on the ball and at the end of matches getting on the end of things."

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