By Shaun Casey
2022 was a difficult season for Ciaron O’Hanlon. A series of “niggly injuries” throughout the course of the season saw him play just six times and miss out on Armagh’s championship run to the last eight.
Unfortunately for O’Hanlon, 2023 may not be much better. A nasty knee injury picked up while lining out for Killeavy saw O’Hanlon miss out on the entire club championship and he’ll remain sidelined for the next few months at least.
“Last season was a struggle for me,” recalled O’Hanlon. “I missed a good chunk of preseason and when you don’t have that good foundation going into the league and the way the seasons are at the minute, everything is coming hot and heavy.
“If you’re not at the peak of your fitness, it’s hard to break into the team. Just niggly injuries throughout the year sort of held me back a wee bit but it gives another lad an opportunity to go in and take a position and that’s what you want in your team.
“When you’re trying to push for trophies, squad depth is very important. From a personal perspective it was disappointing but when you look at it as a whole, it’s great to have someone to come in and push you for your spot and have a good replacement to come in.
“It’s brilliant because you have that competitive nature in training and that’s what separates you from trying to go and win trophies and leaving stuff behind. You have to have that competitive squad to push on to the next level.
There are a number of new recruits that have been added to the Armagh squad during preseason and some may see game time in the upcoming McKenna Cup. It’s not that long ago since O’Hanlon was a newbie himself, fired into the lion’s den.
At just 18-years of age, the Killeavy man earned his Armagh appearance in the opening round of the 2013 championship, which ended in defeat to Cavan. Paul Grimley, the manager at the time, sited “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” but O’Hanlon’s first outing didn’t quite work out.
He knows better than most how the new players in the squad feel though. “From a personal point of view, I’m putting a bit of pressure on myself because you know there’s new boys coming in, they’re hungry, they want to compete for places.
“As a team, it’s brilliant to see because that squad depth is so important and all of them boys are adding to that and pushing other boys on and ultimately that will hopefully take us to the next level.
“Coming in young, there’s definitely, I wouldn’t say a pressure but you’re playing at the highest level in your sport, so you have to be on your game every time you turn up to training and whenever the opportunity does come, you just have to grab it with both hands.”
Armagh will meet Antrim and Cavan in the upcoming McKenna Cup and O’Hanlon is expecting two tough outings, which will offer perfect preparation ahead of another Division One National League campaign.
“It’ll be good to get good games coming up to the league, good strong opposition and I know football is maybe a wee bit different this time of year, but it would be good to get a tough game before the league just to get you up to that level. If you have that in the bank going into the league, then that brings confidence too.
“When you’re playing at the top table, there’s no easy games and we saw that last year. There were times when we were sitting in a prominent position and the full-time whistle goes and we’ve lost by two or three points, so when you’re playing the top teams, the small things matter, everything matters.
“They’re the sort of things you have to zone in on and the likes of the games in the McKenna Cup, they’re all going to add to your confidence going into the bigger competitions.”
Armagh certainly received a confidence boost last year when they made it to the quarter finals of the All-Ireland series and pushed eventual finalists Galway all the way. A huge part of that was the fans and the support the men in orange and white received didn’t go unnoticed.
“You could definitely feel it as a player, it added massively to the group.
“It’s great to see the support and the backing we get; I could safely say there’s no other county in Ireland would have that backing.
“I would like to say, come out this year and get behind the lads again because it definitely works and definitely helps, especially coming into the bigger games.
“I know I didn’t play much last year but even on the sideline, it’s huge. You can hear it, you can feel it, it’s massive.”