GAA Football

Armagh midfielder Stephen Sheridan not taking anything for granted ahead of 2018

Stephen Sheridan wants to build on an encouraging 2017 with Armagh

ARMAGH’S county player of the year Stephen Sheridan says the Orchard men have everything to prove in 2018 and isn’t taking his midfield berth for granted.

The Forkhill clubman had a stunning year in Armagh’s midfield engine room alongside Niall Grimley – but is already looking over his shoulder ahead of next month’s Dr McKenna Cup campaign.

Sheridan is currently nursing a hip injury but is eager to play a major part in Armagh’s games against Down, Derry and Ulster University at the beginning of January.

“I’m carrying a knock the last few weeks; I’m sitting watching training, thinking: ‘These boys are getting fitter than me – I need to get back in.’

“It’s all about taking your chance. I took my chances last year but Ben Crealey and Aaron Findon are back flying fit.

“If they get their chance in the McKenna Cup and take it, that’s my tough luck. I’ve to work hard to get back into the team.”

Sheridan didn’t feature in Kieran McGeeney’s first year in charge – in 2015 – and played only a peripheral role the following season before hitting the ground running at the start of 2017.

“I enjoy the challenge and the competitiveness for positions on the team,” said the 27-year-old.

“In an inter-county set-up you can never take anything for granted.”

Armagh failed to net promotion out of Division Three last season and their Championship campaign was book-ended by defeats to Ulster rivals Down and Tyrone.

But, in between times, the Orchard men strung together four wins in the All-Ireland Qualifiers – the high points of which were beating Tipperary in Thurles and a fancied Kildare side at Croke Park.

“One good year doesn’t win you an All-Ireland or an Ulster title – it’s only one good year,” Sheridan cautioned.

“As a group, I feel we’ve improved. But what is success?

“We had a decent year last season. We’re still in Division Three, we lost to Down and took a bad defeat to Tyrone. That’s why we need to push on and get back to the level of Kildare and Tipperary.”

Sheridan also hopes the squad has learned the lessons of 2017 by closing out games better than did at different times during their NFL campaign.

“You’re looking at the narrow defeats to Laois and Tipperary in the League – we need to close games out. That was something we gained as the year progressed – how to close games out, and we did that against Kildare.

“I feel we’ve definitely gained from those experiences and with Jim [McCorry] in with us now [as assistant manager], there is a real desire among the players to succeed.

“With competition for places, performances increase. The lessons we picked up last year should really drive us on this season.”

Sheridan hopes, too, that the Armagh fans will again come out in their numbers to push them towards promotion in 2018.

“If we have that support again, and more, it will help us a lot,” he said.

“You think of the Westmeath Championship match; the ground was jammed and the Armagh supporters travelled in big numbers to Tipperary and the same when we got to Croke Park and beat Kildare. The atmosphere that our fans generated pushed us on.”

He added: “In terms of the progression of Armagh football, promotion out of Division Three is going to be a big incentive for us.

“Everybody tells you Division One and Division Two is where you want to be although Division Three is going to be a cracker. You have the Ulster teams of Derry and Fermanagh that won’t be easy. Offaly are there from last year and they’ll be coming back gritting their teeth. Then you’ve Westmeath who we beat in the Championship.

“Division Three is going to be a very hard task for us but our main goal is to gain promotion this year. We need to be getting out of there if we’re to push on. That’s probably the biggest challenge that lies ahead of us.”

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