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25th Feb 2023

Armagh’s plan to ditch ‘Kevin Keegan’s entertainers’ tag against Kerry doesn’t pay off

Lee Costello

Armagh went with a more pragmatic approach.

Armagh have been labelled as the ‘Entertainers’ this season due to the way their exciting style is reminiscent of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle team in the ’90s.

Their obsession with drilling the ball forward as soon as possible, taking brave scores and making opportunities out of nothing has provided a lot of entertainment so far.

So when they travelled down to The Kingdom to take on Kerry – another side who love free-flowing football – you would expect nothing less than a thrilling blockbuster.

Armagh Kerry

However, Kieran McGeeney set up with a much more pragmatic approach against the All-Ireland champions, in an attempt to prove that they have more strings to their bow than first thought.

First of all, they completely conceded the kick outs, allowed Kerry to collect them and work it out from the back, almost forcing them into playing a running game.

Armagh then sat back and kept their shape, making sure that the space in behind was as minimal as possible to stop the Clifford brothers and Sean O’Shea from detonating near goal.

Armagh Kerry

The fact that they were trying to keep the score down, even when they had the wind, is curious because there is always the threat that the floodgates then open in the second half.

The thinking behind this may have been to challenge Kerry’s fitness and count on them fading in the latter stages, as they did have three players making their first start this season, coming back from either injury or a long club campaign.

Due to the team holiday that the squad attended on the back of winning the All-Ireland, they are probably a little bit further behind than others in terms of their conditioning – something that McGeeney maybe wanted to exploit.

Armagh Kerry

Kerry’s handling skills were very impressive though, and they managed to cut through on several occasions, but despite having the lion’s share of possession, they went in at half-time all square.

Although not as trigger-happy as usual, Armagh still managed to match them for scores, and interestingly the Orchard County used Rian O’Neill closer to goal.

O’Neill often drops deep to get on the ball more and tries to make things happen from a creative point of view, but when he’s in full forward, it just gives Kerry much more to think about.

Armagh Kerry

Last week against Mayo, Tadhg Morley struggled with Aidan O’Shea hovering around the D, as the centre back was almost caught in two minds on whether to go forward or stay deep.

McGeeney wanted to recreate this problem for the champions, and in the second half they started to show the more dynamic side of their game, as their fly goalie, Ethan Rafferty, began to put the burners on and run at everything in green and gold.

David Clifford only managed a point in the first half, and was well ‘looked after’ by numerous players in black and orange, but he started to find his feet a little bit more in the second and kicked three frees.

Armagh Kerry

Kerry showed real resilience in the end, and when they managed to go two points clear, the Armagh of old suddenly came to life.

They were launching balls in and trying to be creative, but they were almost too inventive on one occasion as O’Neill had a free kick that could have equalised the game, but instead he tried to disguise a pass to Aidan Forker, only for it to find its way to the opposition.

It became a case of ‘too little too late’ and in the end the home side managed to grind out the result, meaning the reigning All-Ireland champions are officially up and running.

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