By Shaun Casey
IT’S just four weeks since Tyrone and Armagh last shared the field when the pair clashed in a charity game before Christmas. While the result meant little, it gave Armagh an insight into how Tyrone have been going ahead of Saturday’s McKenna Cup meeting at Healy Park, according to their defensive coach Ciaran McKeever.
“We got an indication of how Tyrone’s moving a number of weeks ago in that charity match, they’re looking really sharp. We know what they’ll take to the table and we just have to get back to training ground this week and prepare for it. Our ultimate goal is getting ready for the start of the National League,” he said.
The Orchard county got their season off to a good start, defeating Cavan in the opening round of the McKenna Cup on Thursday.
“It’s good to get back playing competitive matches after boys sitting at home there for the last two weeks over Christmas,” said the former county captain.
“A lot of boys are back to the grind at work this week, so it’s just good to get the boys back out and getting to play competitively again before the National League creeps up. At this level boys are always going to look after themselves at every opportunity.
“We’ve got a number boys back just in the last number of weeks that had been on lengthy rehab programmes from the club season so it’s good to get them minutes in the legs as we get ready for the National League.”
A worry for Armagh however is the goal chances they coughed up against the Breffni blues. Four times Cavan should have rattled the net but for the width of the crossbar and the shot-stopping ability of Blaine Hughes.
“They were probably from our own downfall by giving the ball away in that middle third of the pitch. Any team that’s going to play a counter-attacking game, if they overturn you, they have an opportunity of getting in behind you. It’s something we will have to work on going forward.”
Armagh fielded a strong starting team against Cavan, with only debutant Ciaran Mackin having never experienced championship football. Others like Conor Turbitt, Ross McQuillan, Justin Kieran and Ciaran Higgins were all given minutes too.
“The boys have been pushing well since we had them in on trial bases. Some of them are here now 18 months and some are here only three or four months so they’ve been pushing hard in training. It’s good to get them boys blending in with some of the experienced players and getting them minutes on the pitch.
“You’re not tied to five substitutes in the McKenna Cup,” the Cullyhanna man added.
“You have that unlimited number and I think we used seven (v Cavan) so it was good from our point of view that we could expose them boys to competitive football.
“We’re living in strange times. A couple of boys probably just isolating at the minute but we’ve nothing major to be worrying about and hopefully we’ll have a clean bill now over the next couple of weeks.”