After last October’s county final, Oisín McConville called on new Armagh manager Paul Grimley to entice his Crossmaglen team-mate Paul Hearty back into the set-up.
Was McConville being a little mischievous? The relationship of some in the club, certainly not McConville or Hearty’s, with Grimley had been questioned for a number of years.
Hearty, who retired from inter-county football, smiles at the memory of the endorsement. The goalkeeper was touched by it but returning to Armagh colours was never on the cards as much as he is training three times a week with the Joe Kernan-led senior team.
“It was nice to be regarded as county standard still but things have moved on,” he smiles. “It’s hard enough committing to Cross at the minute because it’s probably as good as the standard in counties.”
Still, was McConville testing the waters given the chequered history between the great club and county?
Eight months on and Rangers have five players in the county panel, probably not as much as club members would expect given their dominance of the All-Ireland club championship.
However, there has been something of a culture change in how Armagh play their football now with comparisons being drawn with the aesthetically pleasing brand espoused by Crossmaglen.
The positivity coursing through the camp and the county certainly has nothing to do with their so-so Division 2 campaign.
Jamie Clarke’s return from travelling undoubtedly has supporters feeling good about the trip to Breffni Park tomorrow. In his absence, the attack held their heads to help the team avoid the drop to Division 3 but it’s the departure from overly-defensive tactics that had fuelled their plans in recent seasons.
Gone is the sweeper tactic to be replaced by defenders picking up their markers man-for-man à la Crossmaglen. There is more foot-passing too, which also could be a nod to the county’s most famous club.
“It worked well for us and every different manager has their own point of view but the boys seem to have taken it on board and they’ve certainly gone man-to-man in the last few league games,” says Hearty.
“It does take a lot of work and effort to adapt to that type of football. They seem to be coming around to the game we’ve played to a certain extent but we’ll see on Sunday in the white heat of the Championship whether they’ll continue with that game-plan. Judging by the team they’ve picked, they’ll be attacking and on the front foot.”
Multiple sweepers remain in vogue for the leading counties but Hearty argues it wasn’t suiting the players available to Armagh.
“Doing away with it is a big advantage, I think. If they can be a wee bit more closer to their men they can keep the scores down because as much as we’ve been scoring more we have been conceding more.
Whether the alteration in style represents a thawing of relations between club and county, Hearty is uncertain but he and Grimley, having worked with each other during Kernan’s time in charge of Armagh, always enjoyed a cordial rapport.
“Too much was made of it with the Cross players. If you’re good enough you’ll be in there and we’d probably have five in there if young (James) Morgan wasn’t carrying a knock.
“The thing with Paul, though, there was a lot of hullabaloo made out of it. I’ve never had any hassle with Paul and I still have a good relationship with him and I think the others do too.”
One of Grimley’s selectors is Mullaghbawn’s Peter McDonnell, who led Armagh to their last Ulster title in 2008 only to step down a year later claiming in-camp information was being passed outside it as a means of undermining the management.
For McDonnell to go back in with Grimley, whom he had surprisingly beaten for the manager’s post in 2007, it wouldn’t have been a decision taken lightly.
“It was a parting shot,” Hearty remembers of McDonnell’s sabotage claims. “I read the interview and, ach, I don’t know what way it was left with Peter.
“Whatever players allegedly, like he made out, said something, I don’t know. I’m just used to keeping things in shop and that’s the way I played it. I can’t legislate for others who may or may not have said things.”
What’s being said now is only positive. Then again, it is only May.
CAVAN: C Gilsenan; J McLoughlin, R Dunne, K Clarke; J McEnroe, A Clarke, R Flanagan; D O’Reilly, D Givney; C Mackey, J Brady, F Flanagan; N McDermott, M Dunne, E Keating.
ARMAGH: P McEvoy; P McKeown, D McKenna, M Shields; A Kernan, B Donaghy, C McKeever; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, C O’Hanlon, K Dyas; T Kernan, J Clarke, S Forker.
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