Oisín McConville, like the rest of Armagh, was deflated by the performance of their footballers in the recent Ulster quarter-final. With Kieran McGeeney now in total command the expectation was at least a similar showing to what rattled Donegal in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final.
Instead of a brave one-point defeat, however, McGeeney’s men were devoured in their own Athletic Grounds, 2-11 to 0-8. It was over before it began. Wicklow visit the same venue on Saturday afternoon while a few hours later Donegal seek to power past Derry and into a fifth consecutive Ulster final.
That hasn’t occurred since Down’s 12 appearances in a row (1958-69) when they gathered seven titles.
“It might sound a little too simplistic but I expected the best prepared Armagh team in six or seven years and physically they probably were,” said McConville. “It’s almost like we were so wrapped up in what we had to do to beat Donegal – tactics, the white board, video analysis – we forgot to play.
You could see it from the opening minute; basic errors,” Crossmaglen Rangers’ joint manager (with John McEntee) continued. “Then they are allowed kick a high ball into Patrick McBrearty and James Morgan is left one on one with him. Considering at that stage we had about 11 players behind the ball, it’s crazy. And I don’t think that’s the plan that would have been in place. You seen the basic errors like the fist-passing to a Donegal man. It has to be said, in many ways, the players froze on the day.”
The wonder is whether McConville’s Armagh ever froze? Maybe in Croke Park against Fermanagh in 2004, the year they were supposed to confirm their greatness with a second All-Ireland title? He disagrees and anyway this is a vastly inferior Armagh panel.
s “The problem in 2004 was probably overconfidence. We were pretty cocky going into that game and were caught.
“People are so wrapped up in how Donegal play football and how they work that the only thing they seem to be able to do is match–up, mirror image, and see how they get on. Down did it a number of years ago and if they had one more forward they would have beaten Donegal.”
McConville is surprised how Donegal have maintained their high standards despite the departure of Jim McGuinness.
"Donegal have moved on. I felt it was a mistake when Rory Gallagher got the job with Donegal because I thought Donegal needed something different. They had had that Jim McGuinness regime and he's asked for so much of them and they are still going to play the same way, are players not going to be fed up with that?
“Whereas he has come in and just tweaked a few little things. He has the players on his side. Even that thing where he switched McBrearty with McFadden and McFadden was out the field in the Tyrone game, it’s a very simple thing but it rejuvenated McBrearty and McFadden.
“The first thing a manager wants to do when they go in . . is to change things. You want to put your own stamp on things. The lad who was playing wing half forward maybe he could play wing half back, change for the sake of change. He’s resisted that temptation. He’s gone pretty much with what he had, tweaked a few little things.
“I would imagine that team is not training as intensely or as hard as under McGuinness. There seems to be a bit more of a freedom about them and they seem to be able to express themselves a wee bit more.”
So, with Armagh being followed by Roscommon into the qualifiers, a genuinely new contender has yet to rise out of the provincial championships. McConville doesn’t see this changing over the coming weekends.
“It’s Dublin, Kerry or Donegal in whatever order you want. They seem to be the teams who are continuing to progress. There are other teams progressing but only to a certain level, there seems to be a certain ceiling for a lot of teams. Even Kildare, they made a dramatic improvement from the week before but can you give them any chance against Dublin? I couldn’t.
“I can’t fathom how they are going to handle Dublin and it’s the same with Derry going in against Donegal and Cork against Kerry. Is it becoming the most predictable championship ever in that we will have Donegal, Dublin ,Kerry and Mayo in the semi finals? That is certainly the way it looks.”