GAA Football

Armagh star Shields fit to make his Mark after injury-ravaged 2021

A hamstring injury prevented Mark Shields from featuring for Armagh last season. Picture by Philip Walsh.

NIALL Rowland returned to action for Armagh in Thursday night's Dr McKenna Cup opener against Cavan and Mark Shields, an unused substitute, could be back on the field for next Saturday's trip to Healy Park where the Orchardmen take on All-Ireland champions Tyrone.

Like Rowland, Whitecross clubman Shields was sidelined with a serious hamstring injury which ruled him out of last year's League and Championship. After undergoing surgery and an intense rehab programme, the attacking wing-back has regained full fitness and is now available to play his part for Armagh this year.

The Orchardmen began 2022 with a 1-12 to 0-11 victory over Cavan at Kingspan Breffni thanks to injury-time scores from Rian O'Neill and Ross McQuillan. Armagh's movement and creativity in attack was often excellent in difficult conditions but the four goal chances they conceded – three of them during a nip-and-tuck second half – indicates that they have work to do defensively for a Division One campaign which begins with a trip to Croke Park on January 29.

“They had four goal chances and we were probably the creators of our own downfall by giving the ball away in that middle third of the pitch,” said assistant-manager Ciaran McKeever.

“Any team that plays a counter-attacking game, if they overturn you they've an opportunity of getting in behind you so it's something that we will have to work on going forward for the National League.”

Among the newcomers, Ciaran Mackin joined the attack from corner-back and popped up with a first half point while Granemore's Justin Kieran, Conor Turbitt, back in the county fold after winning the Armagh senior championship with Clann Eireann, and Maghery's Ciaran Higgins were among the seven subs used on Thursday night.

“The new boys have been pushing well since we brought them in on a trial basis,” said McKeever.

“They have been pushing hard in training and it's good to get them blended in with some of the experienced players and get them minutes on the pitch. You're not tied to five substitutions in the McKenna Cup, you have an unlimited bench and we used seven so it was good, from our point of view, that we could introduce those boys to competitive football.”

Next up for Armagh is Saturday's trip to Healy Park where they face the reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions. The Red Hands, who were granted a bye in the first round because of their team holiday in Florida, begin their season against Cavan on Tuesday night.

“We got an indication of how Tyrone are moving a few weeks ago in the (#Time2Play) charity match in Armagh and they were looking really sharp,” said McKeever.

“We know what they will bring to the table and we'll have to get back to the training ground this week and prepare for it. Our ultimate goal is to get ready for the start of the National League and we have no major injuries to worry about at the minute so hopefully we'll have a clean bill of health over the next number of weeks.”

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GAA Football