Rory Grugan keeping his focus on current Armagh panellists
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section B: Armagh v Derry (tomorrow, The Athletic Grounds, 2pm)
RORY Grugan has lamented the lack of continuity in personnel between last year and the new season – but remains upbeat with the potential of Armagh’s squad as they seek to chalk up back-to-back wins in the Dr McKenna Cup against Derry tomorrow afternoon.
The Ballymacnab ace, who came on as second-half substitute in Armagh’s five-point win over Down in Newry on Wednesday night, fully understood the reasons behind those players who have opted out in 2018.
Grugan himself stepped out for a year – in 2015 – as he finished his studies in Liverpool and Paris before returning to the fold the following year.
James Morgan, Jamie Clarke, Stefan Campbell, Ciaran O’Hanlon and Shea Heffron are among those who have stepped away from the county set-up this year, while Ciaran McKeever retired at the end of last season.
“It’s hard because you’re trying to get that continuity between the years and we thought we were getting that,” said Grugan.
“It can be hard when you lose a few faces but at the end of the day you have to want to be there and boys have got their own stuff going on in their lives.
“Maybe they’ve put off going travelling for a few years and maybe this is the year they’re going to do it.
“There are different reasons but you have to focus on the boys that are here and there’s always going to be 30 boys or more that want to play for Armagh and that’s the ones we have to focus on, and thankfully there’s a good depth of talent there and it’s up to somebody to stand in those shoes who have stepped away.”
Micael McKenna, who also made a late substitute appearance against Down, should boost Armagh’s attacking options this year.
The clever centre-forward was making good progress with Armagh before he took last season out to live in Australia.
“Micael has Championship experience,” said Grugan, “and you can see when he came back into the set-up he’s got that bit of quality. He’s ready-made to come back in and it’s definitely good to see him back.”
Ronan Lappin had a good Championship season with Maghery and earned a county call-up. The towering forward took full advantage of starting in Newry, bagging 1-1 in the second half.
Defender Niall Rowland is another interesting option for the Orchard men this year. On the fringes last season, the roving half-back stole forward to hit three points against Down and can expect to see more game-time in 2018.
Ciaran Higgins, who suffered an early-season injury last year, is hoping to be back soon and along with his Maghery team-mate Ben Crealey they both can stake claims for starting berths during the McKenna Cup campaign.
“It’s always good to start the year off with a win and probably from my perspective there a few new faces that are making an impact as well – Ronan Lappin stands out and Paddy Burns at corner-back,” Grugan added.
“It’s good for us too that players who are getting their first chance at senior football are taking it and trying to push us all on and it can only be good for us.”
Niall Grimley and Gavin McParland – two massive success stories in 2017 – are fighting their way back to full fitness following an elbow injury and concussion, respectively.
Kieran McGeeney’s men are well placed to reach the McKenna Cup semi-finals that will allow more of the squad to see some action ahead of their NFL campaign.
“I suppose the more games you get, the better really,” said Grugan.
“It’s such a quick month with the League starting on the 28th, so if we can get a couple more wins under our belt we’ll get another game in the semi-final.
“Any player will tell you, they’d rather games than training. You can never really tell until you get into a match because we’ve been working hard before Christmas and you don’t really know until you come and play a competitive game, especially with a few new faces. And, for myself, it’s nice to get a bit of match practice as I was carrying bit of a knock.”