Cahal Carvill

CAHAL CARVILL: The fear of losing

“Do you know who I am? I’m Moe Greene. I made my bones while you were going out with cheerleaders”

THIS classic line from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film, The Godfather, came to mind at the full-time whistle of the All Ireland quarter final between Armagh and Monaghan. In the scene Michael Corleone proposes to buy out Moe’s interest in his Casinos to which Moe flies off the handle stomping petulantly out of the hotel room, delivering this classic line on his way out. Armagh Manager, Kieran McGeeney, ran on to the pitch at the end of normal time against Monaghan remonstrating with the referee about a free that never was. On his way off the field as the full-time whistle sounded, he petulantly shouldered Monaghan player, Stephen O’Hanlon.

“Do you know who I am?”

The loss to Monaghan was another in a long line of heart-breaking defeats for Armagh. Again and again they climb the mountain, but much like Sisyphus, when they almost have the boulder to the top, it rolls back down the mountain and they are left to the start again.

My Monaghan friend texted me after the match saying, “It’s the hope that kills you boys”. But it didn’t have to be this way. In an almost carbon copy of the Ulster final when Brendan Rogers was black carded at the end of the game, in added time of normal time Monaghan player Sean Jones was black carded leaving Armagh with the opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck and push on.

However, this ultra-defensive, gripped by the fear of losing, gameplan imposed on the players, leaves the Armagh totally incapable of pushing on and finishing a team off. Let’s not go for it for fear of losing, let’s hold back and maybe kick the winner when the clock runs out. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

The win or learn mentality that Armagh management have referenced after previous heart-breaking defeats is also wearing a little thin now: the fact is they have simply learned nothing from previous defeats.

For those people who say Armagh don’t have the players, look at Derry’s team. Would you say from 1-15 that they are actually any better than Armagh? Would you say Monaghan 1-15 are any better? If Malachy O’Rourke was in charge of that Armagh team, would they have lost the Ulster final? Would they have lost the Monaghan game? Absolutely not. That’s why I wrote previously in this column imploring the Armagh County Board to go all out to get O’Rourke at the start of the season.

To add insult to injury, while travelling home on Monday night after the game, Marc Ó Sé, the great Kerry player from the noughties, was being interviewed by Matt Cooper about the games at the weekend. Now Matt had little to comment on following Cork’s abysmal performance against Derry on Sunday but when asked about Armagh, Marc made possibly the most cringe-inducing comparisons of any GAA pundit, comparing this Armagh team under Kieran McGeeney to the English soccer team at the World Cup: a comparison which was perhaps harsh on the England as they at least did beat Columbia on penalties in 2018.

The only positive thing to come out of the defeat to Monaghan is that there is no way McGeeney can now stay on, with the defensive, fear constricted football going along with him. Kieran will remain a legend within Armagh and further afield being the only ever Armagh captain to lift Sam Maguire, but now when you look back at that team, in my view they underachieved. As Geezer said himself at the time, “good teams win one all Ireland, great teams win two”.

The County Board must go all out to get Malachy O’Rourke and no stone should be left unturned in the quest. He’ll take this team and get the best out of them and his cult of personality won’t be so over bearing on the players that they will be unable to think for themselves on the field.

No doubt Kieran and his management team have put in a tremendous amount of effort this year and over the past number of years and it would have brought me great joy to see Armagh lift the Ulster title this year and go on to the All-Ireland semi-final. However, that is not the case and the team appear suffocated by the fear of losing which restricts their ability to push on and win games and ultimately the buck stops with management.

In the All-Ireland quarter-final last year against Galway, if Armagh had have pushed up on the last kick out and won the ball the game was over. Instead they conceded the kick out which allowed Galway to go up the field and McDaid kick the equaliser. Ahead of the kick-out Kieran Donaghy ran on to the field and told all the Armagh player to drop back. No room for players to think for themselves.

Earlier in the scene with Moe Greene and Michael Corleone, Michael asks if his credit is good enough to buy out Moe’s share of the Casinos. Moe retorts laughing saying he will buy Michael out. When Michael puts it to Moe that his Casino loses money and he thinks he can do better, Moe asks Michael if he thinks Moe is skimming off the top. Michael thinks for a minute before responding, and unfortunately for the current Armagh management, who have no doubt brought some good times back to Armagh football and have put in a tremendous amount of effort, Michael’s response applies equally to them as Mr Greene, you’re unlucky…

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