GAA Football

'McKenna Cup was good for us' says Armagh boss McGeeney ahead of Dublin Division One opener

Conor O'Neill was one of a number of Armagh players to impress throughout the McKenna Cup. Picture: Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

KIERAN McGeeney has some difficult decisions to make when he sits down to select his team to play Dublin in the NFL Division One opener on January 29.

The Armagh manager rates the Dubs as “the best ever to play Gaelic Football” but says his talented Orchard county outfit is looking forward to the challenge of measuring themselves against the Leinster giants.

Armagh bowed out of the Dr McKenna Cup at the semi-final stage on Tuesday night after a draw against Monaghan. It took penalty kicks to decide the issue but, after wins against Cavan and Tyrone in the group stage, McGeeney was pleased with the dividend from the January warm-up series.

“The McKenna Cup was good for us,” he said.

“We didn’t get beaten and the boys did everything they had to do but there’s a lot to do between now and the Dublin match. A lot of people have put their hand up. It was good to see Niall Grimley out there against Monaghan. We haven’t had him and Oisin O’Neill playing together from the beginning of the year. They would be our regular midfield but Ben (Crealey) and Ciaran (Mackin) have done really well there and Stephen Sheridan did very well against Cavan.

Crossmaglen clubman O’Neill is sidelined with a quad strain McGeeney hopes to have him available for the Croke Park clash. He emptied his bench on Tuesday night, using his entire matchday squad against a Monaghan outfit that did the same.

The three pre-season games have given him plenty of options going into the Division One campaign.

“It’s great to see Ciaran Higgins (Maghery full-back) and Ben back and both of them playing well,” he said.

“Ciaran Mackin has been outstanding in the McKenna Cup and we have the likes of Aidan Forker, Paddy Burns, Aidan Nugent, Mark Shields who really played no football last year.

“Julie (Davis) has done a good job with the panel in the pre-season and they’re strong and robust and we’ve got game-time for them and we still have a couple of players to come back in who are carrying knocks. Ethan Rafferty is coming back from a cruciate injury and when you’re coming back from injury it’s hard to push into that squad because there are a lot of people putting their hand up.

“Competition (for places) is hot and heavy so it’ll be a tough job to cull anybody but I suppose that’s part and parcel of the job. We have a couple more sessions to fit in so we’ll leave that until this weekend and then take it from there.”

Armagh will travel to Dublin as underdogs but the ample real estate of Croke Park should allow them to play to their attacking strengths and the Dubs – managed by McGeeney’s former Na Fianna team-mate Dessie Farrell – should find it difficult to contain the Orchard forwards.

“That’s the level that we’re at and we have the All-Ireland champions (Tyrone) after that,” said McGeeney.

“But that’s where every young player should want to be. Croke Park is a big pitch, it’s like playing in Clones and as a player I loved those pitches because you have plenty of space to kick the ball into. “You can ball on those pitches, it’s hard to shut up shop completely, there’s space and a couple of metres extra on each side can make a massive difference for teams that are prepared to go at it. It’s a tough opener, everybody will be watching it but, as I said, as a young player that’s where you should want to be.

“You mightn’t like the feedback it gives you but it’ll be an honest sort of feedback and we’re all looking forward to it.”

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