Armagh could be weakened ahead of Kildare trip in Division Two opener
ARMAGH are sweating on the fitness of a number of key players ahead of their opening Allianz NFL Division Two trip to Kildare this weekend.
Jamie Clarke, Brendan Donaghy, Aidan Forker and Mark Shields are all nursing injuries as the Orchard men look to get off to a winning start in Newbridge on Sunday.
Eyebrows were raised when Clarke was substituted in the 60th minute of last Saturday night’s Dr McKenna Cup final against Tyrone, but it is understood the Crossmaglen Rangers clubman has had a niggling calf problem which was behind his surprise withdrawal with the game still finely balanced.
Aidan Forker and Mark Shields were named to start in the McKenna Cup final but neither defender featured.
Forker, who has emerged as one of the leaders of this Armagh team over the last couple of seasons, suffered a facial injury and could be held in reserve against the Lilywhites.
The evergreen Shields was not deemed fit enough either to face the Red Hands due to a hamstring problem and Sunday’s League opener might come a week too early for him.
Veteran defender Brendan Donaghy was withdrawn at half-time against Tyrone and his participation on Sunday is in doubt.
If Forker, Shields and Donaghy do not pass fitness tests, Armagh’s defensive depth could be tested, especially with Forkhill’s Patrick Burns and Crossmaglen’s Paul Hughes unlikely to feature in week one of the Allianz Leagues as both are still rehabbing their way back to full fitness.
But the return of James Morgan this season will be of huge benefit to Armagh against Kildare with the Leinster men expected to be pushing for promotion after their fantastic run to the Super 8s last year.
The equally tenacious Ryan Kennedy of Ballymacnab is likely to be pushing for a starting slot this year while young Connaire Mackin has continued to impress after making the breakthrough last season.
Up front, Andrew Murnin is unlikely to see any early League action due to injury. The hugely gifted full-forward was on his travels over the last few months but recently returned to the fold.
With Murnin out of the frame, there might be an opening for young Jack Grugan who got a decent amount of game-time in the McKenna Cup.
The talented Ballymacnab full-forward has been around Kieran McGeeney’s panel in the past and will be hoping he can break into the Armagh attack and play alongside his brother Rory in 2019.
Although Oisin O’Neill is sidelined after undergoing ankle surgery, his brother Rian has caught the attention of Armagh supporters already this year.
A precocious underage talent, Rian has already shown this year that he is well capable of stepping up to the senior ranks and leaving an imprint on Armagh’s Division Two campaign.
Meanwhile, Kildare have a few injury worries of their own ahead of Armagh’s visit on Sunday.
Manager Cian O'Neill is without eight players who played in their final Super 8s game against Kerry last summer.
Mick O'Grady and Neil Flynn carry suspensions over from last summer’s game against Kerry, while Daniel Flynn and Johnny Byrne have stepped away from the panel.
Eamonn Callaghan, who was one of the best performers during McGeeney’s time in charge of Kildare, has retired from the inter-county scene and Niall Kelly is travelling.
Kevin Flynn and Paddy Brophy are both injured.
However, Peter Kelly, Mark Sherry and Chris Healy are expected to be available following Two Mile House's All-Ireland club IFC semi-final defeat to Kilcummin last weekend.