Stefan Campbell latest player to opt out of Armagh squad for 2018
STEFAN Campbell is the latest player to opt out of the Armagh panel.
The Irish News understands that the versatile 26-year-old Clan na nGael forward, who is equally at home at midfield or in an attacking role, has not linked up with Kieran McGeeney's squad for pre-season training.
However, Campbell, who is currently impressing for soccer outfit Lurgan Celtic in the NIFL Championship, hasn't called time on his inter-county career and it is understood that the door remains open for him to return.
Tall, quick and unorthodox, Campbell has looked capable of developing into a skilful top drawer full-forward since he made his debut in the Dr McKenna Cup back in 2012. However, his form did dip last year after a disappointing Ulster quarter-final performance against Down.
After that loss Campbell was used as a substitute and he was sprung from the bench to score in the three Qualifies wins that followed for the Orchard county before he regained his starting place for the Croke Park encounters with Kildare and Tyrone.
Whether Campbell returns to the fold or not his absence means that, according to reports, Armagh will begin next season minus seven of the players who took the field as favourites for the Ulster SFC quarter-final against Down at Pairc Esler back in June.
As well as Campbell, Crossmaglen Rangers quartet James Morgan, Paul Hughes, Oisin O'Neill and Jamie Clarke are all reported to have opted out of the Orchard county squad and so have Killeavy clubman Ciaron O'Hanlon (travelling) and retired Cullyhanna native Ciaran McKeever.
Also missing for next year are final year university students Shea Heffron and emerging Crossmaglen defender Aidan Rushe.
In an interview with The Irish News, Heffron explained why he was unable to commit to the Armagh cause next year: “I wish that I could commit to the football,” he said.
“But you need to make priorities at certain stages in your life and football isn't going to pay the bills.” Manager McGeeney declined an invitation to discuss his panel yesterday. With former Armagh and Down supremo Jim McCorry now installed in the backroom team, the expectation was that Armagh would build on their free-flowing performance against Kildare in the round four of the Qualifiers last season.
But the loss of so many experienced players is obviously a setback as McGeeney prepares his side for a 2018 season that begins with a Dr McKenna Cup clash against Down on January 3.
After coming tantalisingly close to clinching promotion last season, Armagh begin their Division Three campaign by hosting Sligo (now managed by Tyrone native Cathal Corey) at the Athletic Grounds before trips to Offaly and Westmeath are sandwiched in between a home game against Longford.
The Orchardmen then face Ulster rivals Derry and Fermanagh before their final fixture against Wexford leads them in to an Ulster Championship quarter-final against Rory Gallagher's Fermanagh.
Meanwhile, Clady clubman Mickey Savage was elected as the new Orchard county chairman at the Armagh County Convention on Thursday night. Savage, who had served as vice-chairman and head of the referees' committee, has taken over from Middletown clubman Paul McArdle.
Armagh committee: Michael Savage (chairman), Liam Ross (vice-chairman), Paul Duggan (secretary), Sean McAlinden (assistant secretary), Peter Murphy (treasurer),Thomas Hamill (assistant treasurer), Padraig Haughey (development officer), Barry Watters (coaching officer), David O'Brien (hurling officer), Eddie Hughes (central council delegate).