FORMER Armagh attacker Oisín McConville has claimed the key to the Orchard county surviving in Division One North this year, is a requirement to become a “horrible” opposition.
rmagh are back in the top-flight for the first time since they were relegated in 2012 but when they look down the fixture list there will be the spectre of recent heavy defeats in the Championship for Kieran McGeeney’s men.
Last November they suffered a 1-22 to 0-13 defeat to Donegal, who they will meet in the final round on May 29.
The last time they faced neighbours Tyrone in a meaningful game was the 2017 All-Ireland quarter-finals, the Red Hands running up 3-17 to Armagh’s 0-8. They face Tyrone on the second weekend and both games are at home.
With such heavy-duty opposition, it places a lot of importance on their first day out, against Monaghan on May 16, a game that will be played at Brewster Park, Enniskillen with Monaghan losing home advantage as part punishment for breaching the training ban.
“If I was going to give Armagh the ultimate criticism, it is that teams like playing against Armagh,” explained McConville, an All-Ireland winner in 2002.
“I am sure that’s not what those players and Kieran McGeeney has set out to do, but that’s unfortunately the way things are at the minute.
“Let’s face it, Armagh are under severe pressure to survive and realistically, the game they will be targeting when you consider their record against Donegal and Tyrone, is the Monaghan game.
“I think the loser of that could be relegated. That’s what it looks like on the face of it.”
McConville’s former captain, McGeeney, is heading into his seventh consecutive year in charge of Armagh, having spent a year as coach under Paul Grimley before that. Alongside Clare’s Colm Collins, he is the longest-serving manager in any county football role.
There has been a slow build of expectation on Armagh ever since McGeeney took over, but their Ulster Championship performances and defeats have frequently been alarming.
While there have been a number of returnees to the panel for 2021, they cannot count on the talents of Jamie Clarke, who has decided against returning for the season. He is now registered with Neasden Gaels of London, so the situation is not exactly fluid.
“I think a lot of things have to change,” said McConville. “Last year’s Donegal game was a chastening experience for everybody. The biggest thing for a lot of people was that it wasn’t competitive after the first 10 minutes. I think Armagh have to introduce a doggedness.
“Armagh produce some lovely football, lovely build-up play and that kind of thing but they are just not horrible to play against.
“I don’t like to reference the teams I played on, but we were damn ugly to play against, and then we were decent going forward. We had decent forwards, don’t get me wrong, but first and foremost we were awkward to play against.”
He explained: “I think that this team, it all seems that they are too nice. We have big solid athletes and I don’t think that that attribute has been used to the best of its ability.
“There is very little you get away with now as an inter-county footballer, but I think the starting point for this Armagh team should be that they are horrible to play against.”
That quality has been referenced by former Donegal forward Brendan Devenney, who was frequently left frustrated in big finals by Armagh’s ability to marginalise the opposition’s main players with their streetwise attitude and gameplans.
McConville believes this quality is somewhat lacking. “I have heard this for some time now in relation to politics and Covid-19. Whenr Dublin were caught training, they said it too; it’s about ‘optics’.
“In Armagh, the optics are that we are shouting in people’s faces and doing things like that. But there has to be something behind what you are doing.
“If there is something behind it, if there is a horrible team you are being, then the optics don’t really matter.”
He added: “I heard this before, that you have to have a certain amount of scamps in your team in order to prosper.”
Recent winning teams would hardly dispute this.
“The other way it is reported is that it is over the top, across the line, whatever. And I think there is one common denominator; if you are winning and you have those qualities, then it is a lot easier for you to explain away than if you are being beaten by 15, 16 points.
“I think it goes hand in hand with the other. It seems to be almost more acceptable for you when it is working well and you are winning.”