Tuesday, 18 April 2017
ARMAGH manager Sylvester McConnell wasn't pulling any punches nor kicking anyone when they are down after Sunday's disappointing Ulster Hurling Final defeat to Antrim.
The Orchard men were always underdogs but the Saffron's put Armagh firmly in the doghouse as they ramped to their 16th Ulster title in a row.
Mayobridge band provided the entertainment before the match and at half-time of the game and they deserve praise for putting in an excellent performance in horrible wet and bitterly cold conditions at Derry's Owenbeg.
The same can't be said for the hurlers, who have been ravaged by injuries.
“It is what it is and we take it as it is, we probably didn't perform at all there today and we let ourselves down - it is maybe our worst performance of the season - and that is not taking away anything from Antrim - they were smart with the ball, they were intelligent today but it was one of them days where we didn't turn up," said McConnell.
Paul Gaffney, Shea Gaffney, Newry's Eion McGuinness and Killeavy's Niall Strain were among those ruled out through injury and that was a massive blow to any chance Armagh had of producing an upset and with Saturday's crunch game against Donegal in mind the hurling boss admitted resources are stretched.
“We have a lot of injuries we are missing players down through the middle of the team," said McConnell.
“It was tough but having said that the young lads that have come in have done well.
Caily [Gorman] and Danny [Magee] have come in and done well.
“We have what we have at the minute, maybe Eoin McGuinness might get some game-time but none of the rest of the lads will be back at this stage.
“We are stretched but that's the game and we have a big squad and the boys coming off the bench have been doing really well so we can't fault that end of it. It is tough but that's the way it is. It was a bonus to play in an Ulster Final - it would be for any team, as big games is where you want to play in and where you want to learn.
“We now have to lift our heads for this Donegal game. They have been away for a training weekend - that's what they think of the Ulster Championship."
While last weekend McConnell insisted he wasn't happy with the timing of the Final he didn't use it as an excuse for Sunday's defeat.
“It's an Ulster Final, we are not taking anything away from it," he said.
“Donegal didn't play Down today, they took a training weekend and the questions will be asked after we play Donegal and Antrim play Carlow if that six day turnaround is a good thing or a bad thing.
“Where we are standing now, we have to lift ourselves but Antrim are coming from a different direction where they are on a high and have used this game as a stepping-stone to the Carlow game.
“With us, the injuries and that it is a different situation. We will be back for the Donegal game and we will not let today's defeat hurt us, or let it build up.
“We know how important the Nicky Rackard Cup is to us this year and we will be very much focused on this Donegal game."
Armagh were 2-10 to 0-02 down when Craobh Rua's Fiachra Bradley bundled in Armagh's only goal on 27 minutes. By half-time the gap widened to 1-02 to 3-16.
Armagh did rally briefly in the second half with David Carvill converting frees but there was no danger of an almighty comeback as Antrim cantered to the final whistle with Conor Johnston particular impressive.
Still though, McConnell believes his side are moving in the right direction but reiterated that expectations shouldn't expect giant leaps in standard.
“We are progressing, it is small steps in hurling, it doesn't matter if you train six nights a week it is only small steps," said McConnell.
“Possibly there should have been less between the teams today, we didn't play as well as we can and we know that.
“We know that we are grownups and we lost a lot of individual battles today and we made a lot of individual mistakes and that is some of the things that we are actually good at. And our mistake count this season has been very low but our mistake count today was very, very high and probably the highest in any game we have played.
“If it was due to nerves or conditions, we didn't settle and we can only answer that back on the training field and against Donegal next week.
“I hope the lads have the character to do that and I think they will have, it is a big, big game for us, so we are just looking forward to that.
“It is two in a row Ulster Finals and two games where we could have performed better but the only way we can correct that is on the field and in the game next week."
Armagh play Donegal in Letterkenny on Saturday (April 22) with a 2.30pm throw in.
ANTRIM: C O'Connell; S McCrory, J Dillon, S Rooney; C McKinley (0-1), P Burke, Ciaran Johnston; P McGill (0-1), P Shiels (1-0); M Connolly (0-3, 0-2f), C McCann, E Campbell (0-3); Conor Johnston (3-5), N McManus (1-6, 0-1free), C Clarke (0-2).
Subs: D Murphy for McCann (43), R Diamond for Rooney (56), J McNaughton for Connolly (57), C Carson (0-1) for Murphy (60)
Yellow cards: P Burke (44, 52), N McManus (63)
Red card: P Burke (second yellow, 52).
ARMAGH: S Doherty; C Clifford, N Curry, D Bridges; J Corvan, A McGuinness, T Nevin; F Bradley (1-0), C Devlin; D Carvill (0-7, 0-6frees), C Carvill (0-1), C Corvan (0-3); D Magee (0-1), C Gorman, D McKenna. Subs: O Curry for Bridges (23), P Gaffney for Devlin (23), P McKearney for Bradley (HT)
Yellow cards: J Corvan (31), N Curry (42)
Red card: J Corvan (61).
Referee: J Clarke (Cavan).
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