NEW Armagh manager Paul Grimley is setting out on a journey into unknown waters with an Armagh team who have recently come to be seen as ‘also rans’ in the Ulster and All-Ireland competitions.
The Pearse Óg clubman now finds himself in the same situation as Peter Makem who, in the early seventies, attempted to bring a structure to the county who had fallen down the pecking order.
Players who were close to Grimley during the glory days which delivered the county’s sole All-Ireland success, believe that he is a shrewd tactician and his time with Kildare, Monagan and Meath will all add greatly to his CV.
Grimley sounded like a dejected individual when, in the past, he had been overlooked for the Armagh job following the departure of Joe Kernan, but times change and so do mindsets, and Paul Grimley could be even hungrier for success considering that his time away from the county could have re-invigorated his desire.
There is absolutely no doubt that Armagh are at a crossroads. It will take a huge effort to win back the hearts and minds of the county’s supporters, even before a ball is kicked, and whilst the revisionists from within the Dublin and Donegal ranks would adhere to a robotic training regime, the new Armagh boss has already gone on record to say that his charges will be using conventional training methods to accommodate their quest for honours.
No doubt the Armagh city man will be fully aware of the enormity of the task which lies ahead. Will it take a miracle to reinvent this Armagh team or can Paul Grimley do a “Jim McGuinness” with a squad who have been described as “training drill” players?
In an almost ‘maverick free’ inter county structure, where the views of players and team managers have become almost mundane, can a small county with limited resources and almost no All-Ireland tradition once again move to centre stage?
Irrespective of what the future holds for the Ógs man, it can be taken for granted that no stone will be left unturned under his regime. Tackling had been at the centre of Paul Grimley’s regime in the good old days but he is now ready to tackle head on the challenges which lie ahead.
In his first interview with the ‘Mail’ the new Armagh boss places no emphasis on negativity, but insists that the tide can be turned.
Q Do you feel in any way apprehensive considering that this is the first time you have been in charge of a county team as manager?
A No. I’m looking forward to being the manager and to put to good use what I have learnt along the way. I feel a great sense of pride that the clubs in the county have put their trust in me.
Q What are your general plans leading up to the 2013 season?
A Once my backroom team is in place, I’ll get to work on putting a panel together and speak to those who may not be returning for whatever reason. It’s important to me that I speak to them face to face because I’ve always done that.
Q During your playing days, it was not unusual for county players to return from away games in Cork or Kerry on the same train as supporters. Modernly, do you feel that county players have become detached from fans?
A No, no, but times change and so do the ways we do things. They were good days enjoying a drink and a bit of craic after games with supporters, but the lads now make themselves available to support all types of good causes and that’s great to see. Nothing ever stays the same.
Q Why do you thing GAA managers rarely praise supporters to the same extent as managers in other sports?
A It’s not something I’ve noticed, but Armagh have truly great support; the best in Ireland I think, so we want to give them the good times back.
Q Do you believe that Armagh managers should have a special relationship with Crossmaglen considering their success?
A Personally, no I don’t. My job is to serve all the clubs in Armagh, in fact I’d be more inclined to reach out to the weaker clubs. That’s why we started the new academy, to help uncover players who may not get their name in the papers every week but would die for a chance to play for the county.
Q Many Armagh fans believe that the county no longer possesses the players to challenge at the top level. What is your opinion?
A No I don’t agree with that. The players are there and it’s a case of discovering them. We have a scouting network set up now, but I would love to see a fella coming up to me and saying I want to give county football a go because, if he’s got that attitude, then he’s halfway there.
Q With Armagh, like many other counties, struggling on the financial front, is it possible to be successful on a tight budget?
A It’s possible to be successful if you’re willing to turn every obstacle into an opportunity.
Q Do you believe that your experience with other counties will give you an edge over them in competition?
A Not really, it’s all about the players on the pitch and how they perform against all teams.
Q How does it make you feel when, in some quarters, Armagh are now being described as one of the whipping boys of Ulster football?
A Sick, but even more determined to make them eat their words; and we will.
Q This season, Armagh lost at minor, Under 21 and Senior in Ulster first round games. Did that surprise you?
A Yes it did, particularly at U21 as we would have felt we were very strong this year.
Q After years of youth development in the county, do you feel that Armagh players have become boring and predictable?
A Sometimes I think to myself that we can over-coach an be too tactical, and should maybe let lads express themselves on the ball, take more risks and just play it as they see it, and not be to restrictive.
Q How did you feel when Paddy O’Rourke stepped down?
A When he spoke after the Roscommon game, I wish all his detractors could have seen the heartbreak in that changing room. He was well liked by everyone and we were all annoyed to see him so emotional. He loved that job and had the guts to take it when no one else wanted it. Whilst we all know that, in every county, there’s element of people who wish for nothing only that you fail, Paddy rose above them because he had something that those minority don’t have; ‘backbone’. I can tell you I admired him a lot, he’s welcome in our changing room at any time.