Kieran McGeeney must be a man of infinite patience.
For seven years he pushed the boulder that is Kildare football up the steepest of hills only to find himself right back down at the base of the incline every February. And he is five years into his brief with his native Armagh as we speak.
This latest ask has been no less Herculean. It has required just as much perseverance and the loss to Cavan in the Ulster semi-final replay earlier this month was just the latest of the trials and tribulations to be placed in his upward path.
But there is a sense, a very clear sense, that something is stirring again in Armagh. That the Orchard County, back in Division 2 this year and two years on from an appearance in an All-Ireland quarter-final, is in bloom again.
Saturday night in Clones suggested as much.
Impressive in patches time and time again in recent years, this was the closest McGeeney’s Armagh have come to the complete performance. It was their first defeat of a Division 1 side since accounting for Tyrone in 2014 and it should be noted as more than just the game which prompted Malachy O’Rourke’s exit.
Twelve of Armagh’s starting outfield players contributed to the scoreboard from play here.
They hit two wides all evening, neither of them coming in the course of a second period in which they hit Monaghan for six after a first half which ended with the visitors holding a one-point lead.
Armagh have been consistent in their desire to play an expansive game of football and they mastered it brilliantly at times here. At their best they were watertight in defence and clinical on the counter, Rian O’Neill claiming both his second-half goals on the end of such slingshot movements.
“It was very good,” agreed coach Jim McCorry. “When you’d seen some of the earlier performances we had they were very good but in patches. This one we were good probably throughout the whole lot of it and that was heartening because we see it in training and how good the boys play.”
Armagh will have been on no one’s wish list ahead of today’s All-Ireland qualifier Round 3 draw given their recent record through the back door with four games banked on noteworthy runs in both 2017 and in 2018. Whatever it is about the qualifiers it seems to suit them.
“We were quite happy with Ulster,” McCorry replied. “The first game against Cavan, we had that won, and then it just didn’t work out the second day, but Cavan are a quality side and they played really well.
The shackles are off in that you can play the game with a bit more freedom and I think we saw that here.
Maybe the most notable aspect to Armagh on Saturday evening was the fact that they pushed home the advantage that they had accrued. Too many times they have let sides slip back into games but there was just four minutes of play left when Jack McCarron slotted home a clever, if deflected, goal to give the home supporters the most belated of consolations.
McCorry said as much, couching the point in a needless dig at “youse” in the media where this tendency to fall short has been discussed at length. And there was a similarly strained conversation to be had when clarity was sought on the well-being of Jarlath Óg Burns during that replayed loss to Cavan.
The midfielder left Clones in an ambulance after the drawn encounter with what was believed at the time to be a head injury. Armagh dismissed suggestions of concussion and he featured in the return a week later when he failed to match his standards of the week before.
Oisin McConville claimed subsequently that he had been substituted that second day with a minute to play because of dehydration and exhaustion, but enough uncertainty remained around the matter for McCorry to be asked for clarity. None was forthcoming.
The important thing now is how well he played today and he is a 100% fit.
“We keep getting asked questions but we want to move forward as a county. We just defeated Monaghan in their own back yard and we are talking about games that happened a few weeks ago. So let’s focus on a great result and see who we get on Monday. That’s what is important for us.”
C McManus (0-5, 4 frees); J McCarron (1-1); R Beggan (0-2 ‘65’s); D Ward, K Hughes, M Bannigan, C McCarthy (0-1).
R O’Neill (2-1, 0-1 free); J Clarke (0-3, 2 frees); J Hall and J Og Burns (0-2); M Shields, P Hughes, A Forker, B Donaghy, N Grimley, A Nugent, S Campbell, A Murnin and C Vernon (0-1).
R Beggan; C Boyle, K Duffy, R Wylie; K O’Connell, F Kelly, V Corey; K Hughes, N Kearns; D Ward, C McCarthy, R McAnespie; J McCarron, C McManus, M Bannigan.
D Wylie for Duffy (45); S O’Hanlon for Bannigan and D Mone for McCarthy (both 52); S Carey for McAnespie (54); B McGinn for Kearns (59).
B Hughes, A McKay, P Burns, A Forker; M Shields, B Donagh, P Hughes; J Og Burns, N Grimley; S Campbell, A Nugent, J Hall; J Clarke, R O’Neill, A Murnin. Subs: R Grugan for Murnin (41); C Vernon for Grimley (68); J Duffy for Nugent (73); J McElroy for Burns (76).
C Branagan (Down).
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Mike Quirke reviews the GAA weekend with Oisín McConville, Donncha O'Connor and Tony Leen.