By Shaun Casey
EVERY youngster that grows up in the Orchard County dreams of pulling on that famed orange and white shirt and representing Armagh. It’s an honour that not everyone gets to enjoy, and some have to wait longer than others.
For Padraig McKeever, managing director of McKeever Sports, the official supplier of all Armagh GAA gear, he’s got the chance to not only wear the jersey, but to supply the shirts for the new Armagh Masters’ side that has got up and running this year.
The Eire Og clubman helped start the over 40s team in his native county and takes real pride in producing the gear. “It’s brilliant to be involved in it because it’s such a good thing, the masters in general, it’s really positive across all the counties that do it,” said McKeever.
“I suppose I was in the unique position when I was asked to get involved, the fact that I’m in the line of work I’m in, I was happy to sponsor the team a kit. We have about five sponsors that put money into the kitty and that’ll help us with travel, physio, referees, food after games and all that stuff.
“It’s been brilliant, the support has been brilliant from the start in getting it up and running. We need a lot of physio work at our age! So having the kit and being able to supply it for the lads was great and we got good feedback on it. We had all the leisurewear for the first game, so we looked like a team when we were going to the Tyrone game.”
Last week’s clash with Tyrone, who are chasing three-in-a-row All-Ireland crowns, was a tough learning curve. Armagh got their campaign off to a winning start, overcoming Louth by 16 points, but the Red Hands had too much guile and experience for the newbies on the block, and McKeever believes it gives Armagh a target to aim for.
“Saturday evening was a rude awakening. We played Dublin at the start of the year, and we knew that we’d have to step up but Tyrone were different gravy at the weekend. The intensity that they played at, the physicality, they really got stuck in.
“Once you got possession of the ball there was two people on you, so it was a big learning curve for us. This year, the first year of it, we’ll find our level. The way the competition is structured, we’ll play our group games and we’ll be in Division Two, Three or Four, wherever we’re at and we’ll be competitive in it.
“This year is fact finding. We had a great trip to Dublin, we got a bus down and had great craic on the way hope, singing songs and everything else so those memories are brilliant to get it started.”
McKeever wasn’t actually at the meeting when he was elected on to the committee but was keen to get involved. Austy McKenna, an Armagh man who played for the Tyrone Masters last year and picked up a Celtic Cross, got things up and running.
“I play basketball up at Tyrone Towers along with Austy, Sean Cavanagh, Mark Gallagher from Eglish that would have played in the masters, Donal McAnallen as well,” explained McKeever.
“Austy togged out for them last year but this year he mentioned to me that he was going to try and get an Armagh team going. I was up the walls between work and children and coaching and everything else so I couldn’t get involved but I told him if he needed anything to give me a shout.
“He got Brian McGeary and Chris Rafferty on board and then I got co-opted in, I wasn’t even at the meeting!
“ I ended up getting roped in because the basketball season was over and I was playing reserve football up until last year actually, I’d have played the odd game, but I wasn’t doing anything during the summer.
“I don’t like running or going to the gym so anything that had the ball involved was brilliant. I went to a few of the training sessions and really enjoyed it and it’s all good craic. We weren’t doing anything hectic because at our age, between hamstrings and everything, the boys need to be careful.”
The social aspect is “90 per cent of it” but as footballers, once they pull on that jersey and cross the white line, they’re as competitive as anyone. While the Armagh team is still in it’s infancy, the sky is the limit for the Orchard County.
“All the lads, we were fierce competitors when we were playing club football and that’s still in them and that’s why they’re togging out I suppose.
“Yes, there’s a great social element to it and I was watching that Phil Knight film recently, ‘Air’ and it said that running was the destination, not the finish line.
“The masters is a bit like that, the training and the craic is 90 per cent of it, but at the same time, when you’re in the mix and that ball’s thrown in, you’re as competitive as you ever were.”