Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney. Tom Maher/INPHO
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Kieran McGeeney: 'I still think Rian O'Neill was innocent. There were two people'

Armagh manager takes aim at O’Neill red card, critics and the fixing of the game for Carrick-on-Shannon.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks makes.

Back in the Ulster final, a clipped pass to Rory Grugan ended up in a mark. It would have been the final kick of the game. If Grugan nailed it, it would have been Armagh as Ulster champions.

He dropped it short. There was a bit of a breeze there and a whole world of pressure.

In Carrick-on-Shannon, two minutes of extra time had been played when Andrew Murnin gambled on a ball played into no-man’s-land. It hopped up too high for Galway’s John Daly and the Lurgan man grabbed possession.

He had so, so much to do, but he burned out of everything ferrying it forward before he was impeded within scoring distance. Up stepped Rory Grugan to nail the free and earn Armagh their first big championship win, against a proper championship team, since when? 2008?

Either way, this was a moment here, for manager Kieran McGeeney.

“Delighted for him,” he said about the Ballymacnab stalwart.

“Good lad, one of our marquee players for the last eight or nine years and he took a lot of hassle for that one. To be the man to put over the winning point today was a good thing.”

It wouldn’t be a McGeeney interview if he didn’t get a few things off his chest. In fairness to him, he answers the questions that are put to him.

On the appeal that failed in midweek to allow Rian O’Neill to play this game, after his red card against Tyrone, he stated, “I will say one thing. Whatever about CCCC, the hearings committee has got much better, much fairer, far better system in place. I might not agree with the result but we got a fair hearing.

“We have to make calls based on what they see and what they know. I still think Rian was innocent. There were two people. I have to say on that side of things, things have really tightening up and really good at what they do. We got a fair hearing and can’t ask for more than that.”

Asked to reflect on what this result meant for his own managerial career, he batted it back. 

“I don’t really look at things like that. I have a couple of fans out there that love talking about my management criteria so I’ll leave to them. I’m sure it will be very complimentary.”

But still.

“It’s a great thing to still be there. I’m delighted for the Armagh supporters. You always have doubters some way but we have a great support.

“And even there when it got close at the end, they were like an extra man. Shane Walsh was under a lot of pressure to take the free kick because I could hardly hear anything, never mind him.

“Even when they sent them down here, for some unknown reason. And look, it’s nothing to do with Leitrim – they’ve been very accommodating to Armagh, brilliant people, they looked after us really well. But you would have thought that we could definitely have filled other places. I’ve given up years ago trying to understand the CCCC.”

A small observation on that point. The attendance here was a fair bit shy of 7,000. The capacity of Pairc Sean MacDiarmaida is over 10,000.

On they go. Galway’s big momentum has stalled with this defeat, even more so when you consider that their injury list is getting longer.

Asked about the absence of Damien Comer and Dylan McHugh from the team, Tribesman manager Padraic Joyce said, “They weren’t fit to take part today. They picked up knocks in training Thursday night.

“We had to pull them out last minute today. Dylan missed the last game with the same knock. It is a bit of a reoccurrence he had. Even Sean Kelly limped off. That is the nature of it. We always said with the amount of games we are going to play as a team we have to spread it across our panel. Big players, big injuries for us. We have to regroup and see where we go.”

But still, there is a pulse. They remain in the championship and they have a home tie for the preliminary quarter-finals.

“That’s the bottom line, that’s the big thing for us,” said Joyce.

“We’ll see now where we are when we regroup and come together, because we all know the team that get a clear run of injuries here and gets time.

“Obviously we’ve got a couple of injuries so we’ve got to go and manage them and try and get over next weekend. And we know now that in six or seven day’s time, we are either in the championship or out of the championship.”

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