2018 McKenna Cup gains more importance
The 2018 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup has become a lot more important to some counties than in previous years as it is now a direct lead into the start of the National Football League. The Ulster competition has a Jan 3rd start and a Jan 20 final date which is a week before the start of the National football Leagues.
Tyrone’s bid for an unprecedented 7-in-a-row triumph in the McKenna Cup, should become more pressurized as the remaining 8 counties will want to hit the ground running so as to get the best possible start to the League and the 3 College teams ready themselves for the Sigerson Cup. Armagh were drawn in Group B and will be seeking some retribution in their opening fixture on Wednesday Jan 3 @8pm as they travel to Pairc Esler scene of last year’s Ulster championship defeat at the hands of hosts Down. The second match in the group has Armagh at home to Derry on Sunday Jan 7 @ 2pm and the last match will also be in the Athletic Grounds at 9pm on Wednesday Jan 10 @8pm against Ulster University. Three tough games for Armagh to try and qualify for a place in the last 4 on Sunday January 14. GOOD AND BAD NEWS As the countdown to the start of the 2018 inter-county football season begins in earnest there is good and bad news connected with the Orchard County camp. The good news is that team manager Kieran McGeeney has enlisted the services of former Armagh player and manager Jim McCorry as part of his backroom team. McCorry’s vast experience at both club and county will be a very valuable asset as Armagh attempt to reach the new “super 8” in it’s introductory year to the championship. The new system is for the 8 Sam quarter finalists, a place Armagh occupied last year before being demolished by Tyrone. On their way to last year’s top 8 Armagh recovered very well from their opening Championship loss to Down their free-flowing performance against Kildare in the round four of the Qualifiers at Croke Park undoubtedly the year’s highlight. The bad news for Armagh comes from the fact that instead of players eager to build on last year they have opted out of the 2018 squad for a variety of reasons. With former team Captain Ciaran McKeever retired, Shea Heffron (Clann Eireann), Ciaron O’Hanlon (Killeavy), John Campbell (Clan na Gael) join a quintet of Crossmaglen Rangers players Paul Hughes, Aidan Rushe, James Morgan, Jamie Clarke and Oisin O’Neill who are presently unavailable to the Armagh management. The loss of so many experienced players is certainly a body blow but also prompts the question that something must be amiss or is it just co-incidence that all of a sudden 8 panel members have decided to opt out at the one time. Players leave county panels all the time but rarely in such numbers especially after reaching an All-Ireland quarter final in the previous campaign. At the time of going to press neither McKenna Cup panels for both Armagh and Down were available but that will not deter sizable numbers turning up for this opening “derby” clash. Down dominated the second half of the June 4 Championship match to run out 0-15 to 2-7 winners. Down went on to beat Monaghan 1-14 to 0-15 in the Ulster semi-final before losing to Tyrone 2-17 to 0-15 in the final. Monaghan exacted revenge for their Ulster championship loss to Down by beating them 2-24 to 1-16 in round four of the qualifiers. As already mentioned a good McKenna Cup campaign will be vital for Armagh as they set out to achieve goal number one for the year-Promotion out of Division Three. Armagh were the best team in Division 3 last year but a couple of poor refereeing decisions and inability to see out games from a winning position late on were to cost them dearly. With one Connacht (Sligo), 3 Leinster (Offaly, Westmeath and Longford) and two fellow Ulster (Derry and 2018 Championship opponents Fermanagh) counties making up the Division three League opponents on paper this looks a lot harder prospect than the one at the start of the 2017 League campaign. OFF THE FIELD LEADERS An Port Mor hosted the Armagh Convention where the committee to lead the county off the field were elected. Having served as vice-chairman and head of the referees’ committee, Clady’s Mickey Savage has taken over from Middletown’s Paul McArdle.as the new Orchard county chairman. The full Armagh committee is as follows: Michael Savage (chairman), Liam Ross (vice-chairman), Paul Duggan (secretary), Sean McAlinden (assistant secretary), Peter Murphy (treasurer),Thomas Hamill (assistant treasurer), Padraig Haughey (development officer), Barry Watters (coaching officer), David O’Brien (hurling officer), Eddie Hughes (central council delegate).