ARMAGH defender Ciaran Higgins has no doubt that Kieran McGeeney’s men can make the breakthrough next year that so frustratingly eluded them last season.
The Orchardmen will have McGeeney as their manager for the 10th consecutive season after the long-serving former county captain received the backing of the Armagh clubs (dual clubs had two votes) and executive committee members at a meeting on Monday night.
Of the 62 votes cast, 46 were in favour of McGeeney remaining as manager with 16 voting against. Support of almost 75 per cent is a ringing endorsement of the current management and Maghery clubman Higgins has no doubt that Armagh can tip the balance in their favour in 2024 when they will target promotion back to Division One and the Championship silverware that has remained just out of their reach.
“I think we definitely can push on next year,” he said.
“We lost twice on penalties this year and we can definitely go further. It’s a kick of the ball… If those games we lost on penalties had gone the other way the season looks completely different. We could have won the Ulster Championship and we could have been into the All-Ireland semi-final if those penalties had gone our way.
“So you have to look at it with that detail. You can’t just look at it in terms of what we did or didn’t achieve, you have to look between the lines and see how close we came.”
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Higgins forced his way into the Armagh side for the vital Championship round three group stage match against Galway in Carrick-on-Shannon and he grabbed his chance to impress as the Orchardmen clinched the win that saw them progress to the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.
He admits that his lack of game-time was a disappointment, and he was unlucky to miss out in Armagh’s next game against Monaghan at Croke Park.
“I loved getting in to play in that game to be honest,” he said.
“You put in some hard work and graft all season so it was good to get some game-time and get a good win out of that Galway game when we needed it. I thoroughly enjoyed that and hopefully I can push on from there.
“It definitely is difficult when you don’t get the game-time you want. But you understand that it’s a squad game and if you have a big squad - over 40 boys - then someone has to sit on the bench. That’s what happens in team sports – someone has to do that.
“I was fortunate enough this year to get the shout to go and actually play and get a good result out of it.”
With the county season over, the Armagh players can concentrate on the club game now and Higgins’s Maghery were drawn in a very challenging ‘group of death’ for the round robin stage of the senior championship alongside Dromintee, Killeavy and Ballymacnab.
“If you want to win a championship you have to beat anybody and everybody,” he said.
“So, whoever we’ve got, we have to try and beat and that’s it really.
A senior championship winner in 2016 (Maghery’s first ever title) and 2020, Higgins sees several contenders emerging this year including perennial challengers Crossmaglen Rangers and Division 1A winners Clann Eireann.
“In 2016 we won it for the first time and there’s been a few teams that have won it since then so that’s made it very competitive and hopefully it’ll be the same this year,” said Higgins.
“I don’t think anyone will look past Cross – all the teams in that top four in Division 1A (Clann Eireann, Crossmaglen, Killeavy and Madden) are going to be up there but Cross are probably the favourites again.
“We have a good team as well. We don’t underestimate or overestimate anybody and we’ll go as hard as we can from the start, hopefully get a few wins under our belt and try and keep the momentum going.”