'Eaten bread is soon forgotten' says Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney
KIERAN McGeeney says "eaten bread is soon forgotten" as he turned his attention from Dr McKenna Cup progress to the “touch-and-go” Division Two campaign that starts with Sunday’s trip to Newbridge, home of Kildare.
After two seasons in Division Three saw McGeeney's Armagh denied promotion in their final game of 2017 before they went up as champions last year, the Orchard county manager expects the competitive second tier to be “a tough hunting ground” for his side.
A demanding start means Armagh have no time to find their feet. First up is the trip to face the Lilywhites followed by a meeting with Clare in Newry (punishment for their breach of the GAA’s training camp regulations) and after that there's another away game in Meath.
McGeeney’s men go into the League with the confidence of having reached the final of the Dr McKenna Cup last Saturday evening.
The Orchardmen lost to Tyrone by two points but they had chances to win the game – most notably when a late penalty was struck over the bar – and the Armagh boss says his players need to be more ruthless to turn tight games into wins over the next two months.
“We know they’re all going to be touch-and-go games and we’re going to have to be able to close games like that out when we get the chances,” he said.
McGeeney has Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell back this year but the Armagh cause isn’t helped by injuries to some of the stalwarts of last year’s campaign.
Ethan Rafferty (who scored 2-18 in the first four games) and Andrew Murnin (4-9 in the League) are both ruled out and so is emerging Crossmaglen midfielder Oisin O’Neill.
Meanwhile, experienced wing-backs Mark Shields and Aidan Forker (who played in all eight games and scored in seven) weren’t fit for the McKenna Cup final while defenders Paddy Burns (an ever-present last year) and Paul Hughes haven’t played yet this season.
“We lost three defenders there,” explained McGeeney after Forker, Ryan Kennedy and Shields weren’t risked in Saturday night’s Athletic Grounds clash.
“Aidan Forker’s stitches weren’t right and Ryan and Mark both had to pull out.
“We’re hoping (they’ll be fit for the Kildare game) and maybe one or two more.
“We had to take Jamie (Clarke) off tonight, he was sore. At this time of year those games can really pull on you, especially for fellas like Rian (O’Neill), ‘Soupy’ (Campbell) and Jamie who are only back to this level to this level, it’s tough on their body.”
At least McGeeney has capable cover in most positions. Ruairi McCaughley slotted into defence on Saturday night and Aaron McKay and Greg McCabe also came into the side and did well.
“You have to hit the ground running in Division Two,” he said.
“We know we’re going to be up against it so it’s a big thing for us to try and consolidate, try and hold our position there and get enough points on the board and try and mount and reasonable challenge in the summer.”
He added: “It was a good McKenna Cup for us and we’re happy with that but eaten bread is soon forgotten.
“There were players we’d have liked to have seen that we didn’t get game-time into – the likes of Paddy Burns and Paul Hughes and it would have been good to get game-time into them.
“We have Ethan Rafferty (on the way back) but Oisin (O’Neill) and Andrew (Murnin) are going to be more long-term. We are getting close to where we would like to be but Division Two is going to be a tough hunting ground.
“You saw Donegal – they were short three or four of their strongest players (against Armagh) and you have Kildare coming down (from Division One), you have Meath in there too and Tipperary and Clare – I was really impressed with Clare’s forward line last summer, they were outstanding.
“Their six forwards, every single one of them was top class and Tipperary have always given us our fill of it.”