GAA Football

Profile: Armagh football stars who called it a day in last decade

Padraig Kelly

ARMAGH started the new decade without one of the stars of their 2002 All-Ireland success as Aidan O’Rourke decided to hang up the boots – for good this time.

The Dromintee defender had originally opted out in 2006, but was convinced to return by Peter McDonnell and he played in 2008 and ’09.

He then stepped aside again before the start of the 2010 season having collected an All-Ireland, an Allstar, a National League and seven Ulster titles.

The following winter Paddy O’Rourke had to manage without one of his attacking options as despite being named in the 2011 Dr McKenna Cup squad, Ryan Henderson decided to end his inter-county career to focus on his soccer commitments with Donegal Celtic.

The Clann Eireann man’s most famous contribution in an orange shirt arrived in the 2009 League as he hit 4-3 from play against Wexford.

It was also around this time that Ronan Clarke’s career in orange came to an end.

The Pearse Óg star had never given up hope of pulling on the Armagh jersey again but a series of injuries prevented him from doing so.

His last appearance came in the league against Laois in 2010 and he left the stage as one of only six Armagh players to pick up multiple Allstars after Paddy Moriarty, Joe Kernan, Kieran McGeeney, Oisin McConville and Stevie McDonnell.

APRIL 2012 was another tough month for Orchard fans as two more from the ’02 squad hung up their boots.

First to break the news was one of the county’s greatest ever players, Stevie McDonnell. The 2003 Player of the Year finished his career with 53-504 scored in 116 appearances.

“I want to thank all the managers and players that I played alongside and made some great friendships with along the way,” the Killeavy man said at the time.

Just over a week later, Crossmaglen goalkeeper Paul Hearty decided to put the gloves away, at county level anyway.

One of the more unfortunate retirements was that of James Lavery in 2014.

The Maghery man had become one of Armagh’s most important midfielders but a serious neck injury meant that his county career came to a premature end.

Aaron Kernan’s retirement in 2014 was a bitter blow for Armagh fans, especially as many felt that there were a few good seasons left in him yet. Six years on, Kernan still produces top performances for his club Crossmaglen.

The 2005 Young Player of the Year said that he was content that he had represented his family name well.

"I am particularly proud to have contributed to my family's long-standing connections with Armagh football and to have been involved both with my brothers and my father Joe at the top level.”

Just three days later another popular player opted out as Brian Mallon called time on his inter-county career. The Tir na nÓg forward was a real livewire in his 11 years on the panel.

The 2015 season brought with it a number of retirements for new manager Kieran McGeeney to deal with.

Goalkeeper Philip McEvoy made a decision early in the year to concentrate on family commitments while at the end of the season Finnian Moriarty also called it quits.

Part of the U21 squad that claimed All-Ireland glory in 2004, the Wolfe Tone man left it to his club to announce his decision 11 years to the day from that famous win against Mayo.

In February 2017 it was revealed that Tony Kernan was following his older brother Aaron into inter-county retirement.

The half-forward had lined out with Ulster in the inter-provincial series a few weeks earlier but decided against coming back into McGeeney’s panel.

After much speculation, Andy Mallon announced his retirement three months later.

Like O’Rourke earlier, the corner-back was actually convinced to return after originally calling time.

"Something had to give, so I cut him a bit of slack. I said to him, 'rather than making any rash decisions, go away for a few months and I'd come back to him in March time’,” Paul Grimley said to the Irish News after Mallon had informed him that he was finished.

Mallon didn’t play at all that season, but Grimley did get him back in December 2013 for the O’Fiaich Cup and the player ended up remaining on the panel for a few more years.

ARMAGH’S ’17 season finished with an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone and a few weeks later Ciaran McKeever announce his decision to retire.

The Cullyhanna defender had emerged as one of the county’s leaders post 2002 and captained the team for six seasons during his 15 years with the team.

“It was always my dream to represent Armagh growing up so it's with a heavy heart that I announce my retirement from inter-county football,” he said.”

A year later there was another one of those unfortunate retirements with persistent injuries finally making Kevin Dyas’s decision for him.

He had made his debut under Joe Kernan in 2007 and while he spent a period in Australia with AFL club Collingwood, injuries meant that he didn’t get to play as much for Armagh as he would have liked to.

“These days it’s a tough enough game to be good at and to play if you’re at the peak of your powers, let alone when your body’s just hanging on by a thread,” said Dyas.

Last year saw the latest big retirement in Armagh as the long-serving, and extremely popular, Charlie Vernon said goodbye.

Vernon had been involved with the senior team since 2005 and he collected two Ulster titles along the way.

“To the Armagh supporters, a massive thank you for all the support over the years through all the highs and lows,” said the player.

“The passion and dedication of the Armagh support has always been an inspiration to every squad I have been involved with. I have memories that I will always treasure.”

Some big names hung over their boots over the last decade, but given the age profile of the current Orchard squad, goodbyes are set to be few and far between over the next few seasons.

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