Armagh have 'mountain to climb' but squad is still in good health: Kieran McGeeney
KIERAN McGeeney acknowledges Armagh have a “mountain to climb” to overcome the loss of some high-profile players in 2018 – but is greatly encouraged by the growing maturity of other key members of the Orchard squad.
Armagh posted a convincing display in their opening Dr McKenna Cup win over Down on Wednesday night with Aidan Forker, Niall Rowland, Charlie Vernon and Gregory McCabe all impressing in Newry.
The big question facing Armagh this year is how they cope without James Morgan, Shea Heffron, Stefan Campbell, Oisin O’Neill, Ciaron O’Hanlon and Jamie Clarke all of whom opted out in 2018, while Ciaran McKeever announced his retirement.
“Fellas have got different priorities in their lives and you have to respect that,” said McGeeney, who was philosophical about the absentees.
“The first year we were doing rightly and we hit two top teams – Donegal and Galway – and we didn’t get the Championship run we would have liked, but then you lose the likes of Caolan [Rafferty], Kevin Dyas, Jamie Clarke, Mark Shields and Ethan Rafferty – we lost a whole lot of players coming into that Championship.
“Last year we started getting more back again; we didn’t have too many injuries the whole year and you’re rebuilding.
“But you have to reflect a wee deeper that there’s a core group there that are probably more mature – the likes of Aidan [Forker], Rory [Grugan], ‘Bug’ [Stephen Sheridan], Charlie [Vernon] and Brendy [Donaghy] – they all seem to be pushing on and getting stronger.
“There’s definitely a change in culture with them and we’re getting back to days where they’re proud of wearing the jersey but we still have to look at where we are; we’re still in Division Three and we still want to do well in the Ulster Championship and we still want to push on and try and get to the last eight again but we’ve a mountain to climb considering some of the talent that’s gone.”
However, McGeeney was keen to stress the door remained open to any of those players who wished to rejoin the panel at a later stage.
“The door’s open for everybody – even for those Twitter heroes and social media warriors. My thing is: if you’re giving out about it – stand up, put up, otherwise shut up!
“Everybody’s just got different priorities at different times of their lives… There was definitely no animosity on my side. The one thing you want for all Gaelic football players is to be successful off the pitch.
“That’s what you want for all of them because you’re soon forgotten about. You don’t want to hold any of them back in their careers or their studies and if they feel like they need to do something to add to that we will always do our best here to help them in that regard.
“It’s a big thing with me that off the pitch everybody is catered for. If somebody is willing to work hard at any time of the year they’re always welcome.”
With places up for grabs, Niall Rowland, Ronan Lappin and Patrick Burns did their claims for more game-time in the McKenna Cup no harm at all in Pairc Esler on Wednesday night.
Niall Grimley, Gavin McParland, Kevin Dyas and Ciaran Higgins are still recovering from injuries while Maghrey’s highly-rated midfielder Ben Crealey will hook up with the panel after holidaying.
Playmaker Micael McKenna was also part of Wednesday night’s McKenna Cup panel having returned to the fold after spending a year in Australia.
“He’s a good player,” Geezer said, referring to McKenna’s return.
“He was away in Australia so it’s good to have him back. He’s a good fella, very dedicated. There are a lot of young fellas coming through that mightn’t see [a lot of game-time] this year – Ross McQuillan and Jason Duffy are coming through and young Riain O’Neill as well.
"We’ve six quality players just underneath senior level and maybe with a good year behind them you could see a big change in them.”
Armagh host Derry at The Athletic Grounds on Sunday in their second McKenna Cup game in Section B before facing Ulster University at the same venue the following Wednesday.