McKeegan hoping to get Orchard tenure off to winning start
Karl McKeegan will step out onto Darver playing surface tomorrow afternoon for his first competitive outing as Armagh Hurling manager. The Orchard County take on Louth in the opening round of the NHL and if recent meetings are anything to go by, it could be a cracker.
The Antrim native has been in charge for almost two months and, in that time, his side have been involved in a McGurk Cup clash with Antrim along with a number of challenge games.
“We started on the 29th of November, so pretty much two months,” recalled McKeegan. “We’ve had a right few sessions behind us now before Christmas was hit and miss, boys had different things on, so we didn’t really get into a flow.
“But since Christmas, in January, the attendances have been brilliant, we couldn’t ask for anymore. There’s a lot of new players in and we’re just bedding them in and getting to know them. We had four challenge games in January, a good few training sessions and the numbers have been great, so we’ve prepared well.
“We had the McGurk Cup (against Antrim), we played Derry in a challenge, we played London, and we played Tyrone there last weekend. It was good preparation; the lads get to see where they’re at and we get a look at them.
“We have a big job now picking a team for Saturday because quite a lot of them are on a par and they’ve all been training well which is what you want.”
Playing those teams at a higher grade will show Armagh where they are and where they have to get to. For the new players in the squad, it’s essential to get them up to speed with the inter-county game.
“It’s the speed of hurling is the thing that you notice the most. There are a few of them that are taking to it but on game day, especially against Tyrone the other night, they’re getting caught on the ball a wee bit.
“But that’s just because they’re used to playing at a level where you get a wee bit more time but whenever it comes to inter-county, everything is a lot quicker. So, it’s just trying to get boys up to that speed and it will come.
“They’re all good lads and they’re all mad keen, great to work with and we’ve probably only had a proper month to work with them, we’ll need a wee bit more time but we are getting there.
“We played against Antrim, and I thought we were great that night, their attitude was superb, and they saw what it’s like to play at that higher level and they competed well. Tyrone last Saturday night probably didn’t go as well for us but showed where we’re at.
“Tyrone were full of running and our boys weren’t tracking and that, it just shows you if you switch off at any stage at this level, you’ll get punished. It’s good to see those things, it showed our players where we’re at and where we need to be.”
Louth, led by former Armagh captain Paul McCormack, pose a tough test this weekend and it’s the first of several stiff challenges that McKeegan’s side face in Division 3A.
“There’s no doubt about it, winning breeds confidence. We’re still looking at players and getting to know players and finding their best positions and that so it is a bit of trial and error but at the same time, if we come with the right attitude and apply ourselves, there’s no reason why we can’t start off with a few wins.”