Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever aiming for return in Cavan Championship clash
ARMAGH captain Ciaran McKeever is aiming to lead his county into battle against Cavan on May 29 as he steps up his recovery from the knee injury that curtailed his National Football League campaign.
And in another boost for Orchard boss Kieran McGeeney, classy centre half-back Brendan Donaghy is expected to be available for the crunch Ulster Championship clash with Terry Hyland’s men at Kingspan Breffni Park as he battles back from injury.
The experienced McKeever saw only 10 minutes of League action - as a late sub in the dramatic draw against Galway - after undergoing knee surgery in February.
In his absence, the Orchardmen were relegated from Division Two.
McKeever has been unlucky on the injury front in recent years, and Orchard boss Kieran McGeeney has understandably treated the Cullyhanna man with kid gloves so far this season.
And at 32, McKeever is determined not to miss out on any more big Championship games.
“I’ve got to be sensible and hopefully missing the League this year will mean I’ll be available to play Championship,” he said.
“We chatted about it in the off season and we had a programme in place where I played a match, went into a recovery session on a Tuesday night then went back into a full training session on the Thursday night.
“Through the whole McKenna Cup that’s what I was doing and I felt really fresh, and felt I was playing well. But then the Thursday before the League started we were playing Roscommon in a challenge match and I went up for a ball and as I was landing one of the Roscommon boys jerked the back of my jersey and I landed awkwardly, and that was the knee gone so I had to get an operation.”
And after returning to action against the Tribesmen, McKeever knew it was time to take a step back.
“I trained the week of the Galway game, came on in the last 10, and I just didn’t feel up to pace so I decided to take the rest of the National League out and get the body ready for Championship.
“Every week I feel like I’m getting there but it’s just a case of not getting too excited and coming out of rehab too early, suffering a setback and then being put back in rehab before the Championship.
“So I’m working very closely with our physio team, Julie [Davis] our strength and conditioning coach and until I’m 100 per cent, I’ll not be out of rehab.
“Hopefully that will be towards the end of the month and then I’ll be in competitive training with the boys leading into the Championship.
“But I’m under no illusions that when I come back I’ll have to earn my crust again and that’s healthy for the team and healthy for me. I know I have to be up to the pitch of the pace if I’m to get starting.”
The lure of leading Armagh out when they renew their rivalry with Cavan in six weeks time is a huge motivation for McKeever.
The Breffnimen had 17 points to spare when the counties met in the League at the start of March. That defeat edged the Orchardmen closer to Division Three, while providing the springboard for Cavan’s promotion to the top flight.
McKeever had a watching brief that night, and admits there was plenty of “soul-searching” done in the aftermath.
He said: “There’s no love lost between ourselves and Cavan. That’s just football – we’ve come across each other the last couple of years in Championship and this year in the McKenna Cup and National League.
“When we left Breffni Park that night there wasn’t much chit-chat on the way home – you were sort of soul-searching after a defeat like that.
“But we’ve spoken about it as a group of players and management and we’re under no illusions it’s going to be a massive task at Breffni Park again in May.”