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Painful return to Armagh for McGeeney

Kieran McGeeney’s exalted position in Armagh sporting folklore was secured after he captained his native county to success in the 2002 All Ireland final.

But yesterday his management credentials were undermined on his home soil when his Kildare side were totally outclassed by an Armagh outfit that, in making it three victories on the bounce in Division 2 of the National Football League, not only dealt McGeeney’s morale a huge blow but considerably enhanced their own prospects of promotion.

And in addition they offered confirmation that Pairc Esler, Newry will be bursting at the seams on Saturday night next when they step out against unbeaten Down in a match that will have appeal far beyond the boundaries of the two counties.

For the moment, though, Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke can bask in the satisfaction of a job well done yesterday. Yet while positives surfaced in abundance O’Rourke’s post-match analysis was tempered with realism.

“The fact that we won our individual battles is what helped us to beat this Kildare team.

“Obviously I am pleased about that but I am also aware that big challenges lie ahead. Our aim is to try and win each game as it comes along and the next one happens to be against unbeaten Down on Saturday.

“Their manager James McCartan and myself will relish the chance to enjoy what should be a very entertaining contest,” said O’Rourke.

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Yesterday the feelgood factor that had permeated the Kildare camp in the wake of successive victories over Tipperary and Donegal dramatically evaporated as Armagh, clinically efficient at the back, authoritative at midfield where Ronan Austin, an eleventh-hour inclusion because of James Lavery’s hamstring problem, and Kieran Toner were superb and resourceful up front despite amassing a catalogue of wides left McGeeney’s men trailing in their wake.

By half-time the home side had virtually assured themselves of the points when they led by 0-7 to 0-2 with Kildare’s attacking edge clearly blunted by the efficiency of the hosts’ rearguard.

With Steven McDonnell continuing in the rich vein of scoring form that has marked his league campaign to date and Stefan Forker making a huge impact on his return from duty with UUJ, Armagh flourished even though they managed to spurn a litany of chances.

Aaron Kernan’s stylish distribution, selfless running and astute covering provided further evidence that he is now a pivotal figure in manager O’Rourke’s strategy while his brother Paul had an impressive outing at wing-back. If the introduction of Willie Heffernan and Eamon Kavanagh infused more life into Kildare after half-time, it proved nothing more than a temporary reprieve.

Armagh, with McDonnell and Forker sharing eight points and Austin and Toner keeping the much-vaunted Dermot Earley and Darryl Flynn in check, surged through the final quarter during which they landed four points without reply. It was left to a crestfallen Niall Carew to articulate the Lily Whites viewpoint on what was an exceedingly bad day at the office, McGeeney having sought the sanctuary of the dressing-room immediately after the game..

“Armagh were clearly on top throughout. They would not have been flattered had they won by a much bigger margin We can take very few positives from this game and we will have a lot to ponder over at training on Tuesday night,” said Carew.

Armagh scorers: S McDonnell (0-4, 0-2 frees), S Forker (0-4), A Kernan (0-1, free), P Kernan, M McNamee, R Austin (0-1 each).

Kildare scorers: J Doyle (0-2, both frees), G White, D Flynn, J Kavanagh (0-1 each).

ARMAGH: P McEvoy; A Mallon, B Donaghy, P Duffy; P Kernan, C McKeever, F Moriarty; R Austin, K Toner; J Feeney, A Kernan, G Swift; R Henderson, S McDonnell, S Forker. Subs: M McNamee for Feeney (59 mins), J O’Neill for Henderson (65), B Mallon for A Kernan (69). Yellow cards: McKeever (23), Toner (25).

KILDARE: P Flood; H McGrillen, D Hendy, E Bolton; K Cribbin, M Scanlon, G White; D Flynn, E Earley; D Whyte, P O’Neill, J Doyle; K Donnelly, J Kavanagh, K Ennis. Subs: E Callaghhan for Whyte (18 mins0, R Sweeney for Donnelly, W Heffernan for Ennis (both half-time), M Foley for Cribbin (57). Yellow cards: Doyle (6 mins), Flynn (7), O’Neill (13), Heffernan (58).

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

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