GAA Football

Armagh star Oisin O'Neill out of U21 clash with Down as Neil McManus returns for Antrim hurlers

Oisin O'Neill is out of tonight's Ulster U21 quarter-final

ARMAGH'S U21 footballers look likely to be without emerging star Oisin O’Neill for their Ulster Championship quarter-final against Down at the Athletic Grounds tonight.

It is understood that the Crossmaglen clubman, who has been a regular starter for the Orchard county senior team this season, has a hamstring injury and could miss the game.

O’Neill is also a doubt for Armagh’s trip to Drogheda on Sunday when they take on unbeaten Division Three leaders Louth.

Meanwhile, Neil McManus will return for Antrim’s crucial final Division 2A clash against Westmeath on March 26.

The Cushendall clubman has been out of action since he broke his jaw in a pre-season challenge match against Tipperary at Corrigan Park. He was among the substitutes as the Glensmen moved to the top of the table with a seven-point win against Armagh last Sunday and joint-manager Terence McNaughton said the former skipper did his best to catch the management’s eye from the bench.

“We’re trying to hold him back as long as we can to make sure he’s alright,” said McNaughton.

“He’ll get game-time against Westmeath.

“He’s like a wee-un, he was up and down there bumping into you letting you know he’s still about. He was walking about dropping hurls, he’s like: ‘do you know I’m still here?’”

Westmeath followed up narrow losses against Carlow and Kildare with commanding victories over Armagh and London to force their way into the promotion shake-up.

McNaughton insists that the experiment of playing defenders Neal McAuley at full-forward and Conor McKinley at midfield is working.

“We’re trying to get a balance,” he said.

“We’re overrun with defenders and we needed a targetman. We’ve lost Neil and the likes of Conor Carson and ‘Shorty’ (Paul Shiels) so we’re lacking a bit of power, a bit of physical presence and McAuley was the obvious answer.

“I think he’s doing well. He’s not there to be a scoring-machine, he breaks a lot of ball and wins a lot of frees. He’s doing a job for us.”

Meanwhile, it is also understood that Down are facing an anxious wait as to whether Gerard McGovern will be fit to face Kildare in Division Two of the Allianz Football League on Saturday evening in Newry. 

The improving Mournemen have won their last two games, against Meath and Derry, victories that have given them a much-needed shot in the arm.

The influential Burren club-man, however, shipped a heavy knock in the defeat of Derry on March 5, and had to come off at half-time.

Should the full-back not make it, his loss will be keenly felt by manager Eamonn Burns.

The performances of McGovern, since he was pitched in at the deep end in 2016, have been one of the very few positives to take from what has been a miserable time for Down under Burns. 

During their winless League and Championship campaigns last season, the impressive McGovern was regularly tasked with keeping tabs on some stellar names, and generally acquitted himself well.

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