Armagh show hunger, muscle and intent

 

Football analyst: Armagh sent out a serious message yesterday: physical strength and experience are going to be key factors once more in the destination of this year's All-Ireland.

Most importantly, they showed their hunger is back with a scintillating display of football.

It's basically the same plan they have implemented year on year, only now they are back doing it clinically and ruthlessly. The body language showed they were up for it and their supporters really enjoyed a first National League title on the pitch afterwards.

If ever there was a county focused on a long championship run it is Armagh. In his acceptance speech, Kieran McGeeney asked the supporters to stay calm and give the players space in the coming weeks. I don't think this win will distract them.

Funnily, in the first 20 minutes some of the expected didn't happen as Wexford were winning plenty of ball around midfield, mainly due to John Toal dropping back to protect the full-back line, where Armagh made some good interceptions. Eventually though Wexford collapsed in the middle third and with that went their challenge.

Typically, Armagh never panicked. They just grind down opponents but also play a magnificent foot-passing game with superb diagonal ball to the inside forwards. The recipients of this ball provided the real difference.

By Oisín McConville's and John McEntee's high standards, they had quiet games but the only candidate for player of the year at present is Steven McDonnell. He scored 10 points and laid on the goal unselfishly for Paddy McKeever. There are lots of great players who aren't team players but McDonnell is a superb team player.

Ronan Clarke is playing his best football since 2002 and if Brian Mallon continues to perform like yesterday they will become real contenders for silverware. He got four points from play and executed the role of coming out the field to near perfection.

A new development in the team is the injection of pace to the defence with Aaron Kernan and Paul McCormack making the difference.

Another trend sees McGeeney transformed into a man marker, which he wasn't in the past. When Matty Forde went out to centre forward he was within touching distance of him all the time. He did a similar job on Ciarán McDonald in the semi-finals. It's a departure from commanding the D in front of Francie Bellew. If they have any weakness it is covering in front of the full-back line.

The difference between a team that has won things and a team trying to break through was the amount of cheap ball Wexford coughed up. One of Mallon's points came from possession lost in the Wexford full-forward line.

That's the difference in experience between the teams. Even Forde struggled. Granted, he did kick seven points but also had seven wides. His initial marker, Andy Mallon, can take some credit here.

Wexford must be commended for getting this far but it takes another level when at this stage. The screw was really turned before half-time when Armagh outscored them eight points to one. Then McDonnell kicked two points early in the second half that effectively killed off the game.

Credit to Wexford though, as it's hard to believe they were within seven points at the finish but that's because they never gave up and Armagh took their foot off the pedal.

Looking at the Division Two final, it is ironic Meath lost in such dramatic last-gasp circumstances considering they have inflicted this sort of heartbreak on so many others in the past. The lesson to be taken is old but valued: you battle to the end. Monaghan did that and refused to buckle when the game started getting away from them. The late goal was unfortunate on young Mark Ward as he seemed disorientated when the ball came in. Also, Ollie Murphy was excellent in attack but Darren Fay is not a natural midfielder.

It's a huge boost for Monaghan heading into the championship opener against Derry, with Thomas Freeman finally getting the recognition he deserves on the national stage.