GAA Football

Armagh Harps full-forward Ultan Lennon opts out of Orchard county squad

Ultan Lennon celebrates after scoring a goal in the Armagh senior football championship final
Andy Watters

ULTAN Lennon, who was named at full-forward in the Armagh Club Football Allstar team last weekend, has turned down the chance to play with the Orchard County next year.

The Irish News understands that the physical Armagh Harps frontman – also a talented soccer player with Armagh City – has declined an invitation to link-up with Kieran McGeeney’s squad ahead of the 2018 campaigns which begin with the Dr McKenna Cup on January 3.

Mobile and strong, Lennon scored 1-5 as Cathedral City outfit Harps dethroned reigning champions Maghery in the senior championship and top scored with 1-2 in the Ulster Club Championship clash with Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly at Brewster Park.

But Armagh won’t be able to call on his scoring power next season and the Orchardmen have holes to fill in their squad after the retirement of Ciaran McKeever (who operated at full-forward last year) and news that they look certain to be without talented Crossmaglen Rangers forward Jamie Clarke in 2018.

Also out next year are versatile Carrickcruppen clubman Ciaron O’Hanlon and, according to reports, Crossmaglen defender James Morgan who will be away travelling. Crossmaglen star Morgan, Armagh’s go-to man-marker over recent seasons, could return after six months which means he could be available for the Championship.

The tenacious corner-back wasn’t named in the Armagh Allstar select which was unveiled last weekend. In a sign of changed times, the team included only one player from his club Crossmaglen; emerging half-forward Rian O’Neill, the younger brother of Armagh senior star Oisin and son of former Orchard county defender Gareth O’Neill.

Only six of the team – goalkeeper Patrick Morrison, full-back Charlie Vernon, centre half-back Declan McKenna, Maghery midfield pair James Lavery and Ben Crealey and forward Rory Grugan - have previous inter-county experience at senior level which suggests that there is a pool of talent which has been left untapped by the county management team that now includes former Down and Armagh boss Jim McCorry who has been drafted in as Kieran McGeeney’s number two.

Two players from junior clubs – Jordan King (Thomas Davis Corrinshego) and Conal McKeever (Ballyhegan) were selected along with Donal O’Neill and Raymond Taggart from intermediate champions Killeavy. Senior champions Armagh Harps provided four players in Morrison, McKenna, Vernon and full-forward Lennon.

Meanwhile, there had been speculation that leading sports science expert Jason McGahan would also join the Armagh management team but, with Julie Davis fulfilling that role for Armagh, it is understood that the Tullysarran native, a former county minor star, has not been approached.

McGahan brought a wealth of experience earned during his time as part of Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s backroom team at Kerry to Kildare over the last two seasons when he linked up again with long-term mentor Cian O’Neill.

With O’Neill at the helm, the Lilywhites reached the Leinster SFC final, acquitting themselves well against Dublin but they were out-gunned by Armagh in one of the games of the year when the sides met in the final round of Qualifiers at Croke Park.

With Jamie Clarke in irresistible form, Armagh won 1-17 to 0-17. Clarke scored 0-4 from play and his movement and deadeye finishing gave the Kildare defence a torrid time. While the Crossmaglen talisman will certainly be missed in 2018, Armagh had four other scoring forwards that day in Grugan, Stefan Campbell, Gavin McParland and Andrew Murnin (who scored the all-important goal) and McGeeney and his team will look to them to provide the cutting edge next year.

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