By Michael McMullan
HOSTING Louth in the opening round of the NFL is only show in town for his side insists Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney.
Speaking after their Dr McKenna Cup win over Tyrone, the former All-Ireland winning skipper didn’t delve into the importance of promotion.
The Orchard County were relegated from the top flight last season and ‘Geezer’ is looking no further than Louth’s visit to the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds.
“January 27 is the only game…it is clichéd but it is very true. That’s the only game we are looking at,” he said.
McGeeney described Division Two as a “tough division” and how it was a tough ask to get out of.
“I actually think it is a harder division to play football in than Division One. In Division One, there’s a bit more scope,” he offered.
“In Division Two, teams are very hard to break down, everybody is fighting and every point counts when it comes to the end.
“We got caught out seven years ago, going down on score difference. It was the same going up…it was very tight.
“Our first two games, (we play) Louth and Meath, (who) are very big, strong, aggressive teams, they’ve good defences and they like to go into you. We’ve our work cut out, but this is where we are and we’re looking forward to it.”
With Donegal’s 16-point McKenna Cup win over Armagh’s u-20 side declared void, their one-point win over Tyrone on Wednesday night was enough to book a semi-final spot at home to Derry (Saturday, 4pm) with Monaghan hosting Donegal in Castleblayney on Sunday (1pm) in the other semi-final.
“It was a great run out for both teams, both probably didn’t field their strongest teams but sometimes when you do that, you find there’s other players there who are stronger,” McGeeney said of Armagh’s 1-14 to 2-10 win.
“Our boys did well, the goal in the end sort of took the shine off it but it was a good performance.”
There was a man of the match performance from Oisin O’Neill on the Crossmaglen man’s first outing since the Ulster Championship game with Donegal in 2022.
O’Neill scored seven points from as many shots and made the goal for Peter McGrane.
“He did very well,” McGeeney said, before highlighting the efforts of others.
“There was a lot of fellas there we haven’t seen in a while. Cian McConville put in a good shift, Joe Sheridan was very good as well, Niall Rowland who has had a lot of injury problems, Connaire Mackin in the same boat..Niall Grimley.
“Young Peter McGrane was excellent as well at corner-back, Tomas McCormack got his first run out, Aaron McKay got minutes – there was a lot of good stuff out there for us.”
McKay was replaced at half time, with Jarly Óg Burns slotting in at midfield and Ciaran Higgins dropping back into the heart of the Armagh defence.
“He’s been injured for a couple of weeks there, we just didn’t want to push it,” McGeeney said of McKay’s substitution.
Oisin O’Neill played much of the game as Armagh’s focal point up front. Their defensive shape reduced Tyrone to high percentage shots from around the edges with Tiarnan Quinn and Lorcan McGarrity kicking fine scores in quick succession after the Orange wall closed out any chance of late runners.
Their trap worked and Armagh’s breakaway also created more goal chances only for Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan to decisively make interceptions in his sweeper/keeper role. On one other occasion, Niall Rowland made a fast break but didn’t expect the pass until it was too late and the move broke down.
“The two (Tyrone) goals came from two balls and they bounced in, more or less, which was disappointing,” McGeeney said.
“Outside of that, especially when you’d a lot of new defenders in there, yeah delighted with that,” McGeeney said of the Armagh shape.
“Mark Shields – I forgot about him coming back from a cruciate – it was his first game back. I know that walk – it is a long 12, 14 months so it is great to see him back as well.”