Orchard target winning start out west

By Shaun Casey

ARMAGH reached the Division 3A league final last year but their long-awaited promotion to Division 2B was again held up as Karl McKeegan’s side just came up short against Roscommon, who were admittedly much better on the day.

Since suffering relegation to Division 3A in 2018, Armagh have competed in four league finals, losing every single one of them, while they also finished second in the table to Sligo during the 2021 campaign, when there was no league final.

So, they’ve been knocking on the door a long time, but it’s getting that final step over the line that has been the issue for the Orchard County and as the 2024 league campaign gets underway, promotion will once again be the target.

A good start will be essential, although nothing is guaranteed as Armagh face an extremely difficult task when they travel west this weekend to take on Mayo before hosting recently relegated Sligo in round two.

Recent history would show that Armagh have no problem getting off on the front foot at the start of the league as they’ve began their last five campaigns with an opening day win, which has usually set them in good stead.

They will be without two of their most experienced heads for the upcoming season however as both Nathan Curry and Eoin McGuinness, two versatile attacking players, have stepped into retirement.

Cormac Jennings has stepped away from the panel due to personal reasons while youngster Tomas Galvin, who really caught the eye last year, is currently playing in the Irish League with Dungannon Swifts, so his involvement could be limited.

With those gaps opening up in the squad, McKeegan has spread the net far and wide in the hope of adding fresh talent to the panel and has recalled some former inter-county hurlers who have recently returned to the country.

Aaron Fox captained the side in 2021 before heading off to Canada for a few years but is now back in the panel and will be a welcome addition while Joe O’Connor, the 2023 Junior Hurler of the Year, along with Middletown duo Kevin McKernan and Paul Gaffney will also link up with the team.

Sharpshooter Alex O’Boyle, who plays club hurling for Oisin’s Glenariffe, and scored 1-9 in the McGurk Cup against Derry, is a quality operator while John Donnelly, Caolan McReynolds and David Ryan of Cuchulainns have also been called into the squad.

It’s a tough opener for Armagh but one they’ll be looking forward to and they’ll be intent on starting their new season as they mean to go on.

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