McKenna Cup Preview: Down vs Armagh
One of the biggest fixtures in local sport returns to Newry this weekend as Down take on Armagh in the McKenna Cup. The match will be the subject of conversation in many homes throughout Newry and Mourne as both counties kick off their 2012 intercounty campaigns.
Down manager James McCartan will start 2012 without several key players from last year’s campaign and will look to solidify a good starting 15 in time for the National Football League which begins next month. The Down manager will be without brothers Martin and John Clarke, as well as Ronan Murtagh, Caolan Mooney, James Colgan, Peter Fitzpatrick and Luke Howard. Other key players such as Damien Rafferty will also miss out this weekend.
McCartan has also been forced in to making several changes to his 24 man squad as several players picked up injuries this week. Conor Garvey, Darren O’Hagan, Brendan McArdle and forward Paul McComiskey have all been removed from the squad. Liam Doyle (Liatroim Fontenoys), Ryan Brady (Mayobridge), Keith Quinn (Mayobridge), Michael McAllister (Clan na Banna), Kevin Anderson (Annaclone), David McKibbon (Bryansford) and Aidan Brannigan (Kilcoo) are all late additions to the squad.
Down however will still have three 2010 All Star players in their squad this weekend in Benny Coulter, Brendan McVeigh and Danny Hughes. Down also welcome back influential midfielder Ambrose Rogers. McCartan will look to give some new faces a chance to shine for Down in the McKenna Cup with players such as Arthur McConville, Marcus Miskelly and Peter Turley being called up off the back of their impressive club form.
Speaking about his squad, McCartan said, “The door is always open, of course. We will see how we go in our group games in the McKenna Cup and if we reach the semi-final or maybe even the final the extra matches won’t do us any harm.”
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke has made similar adjustments to his Armagh panel with 12 new faces linking up for the 2012 campaign. Stevie McDonnell and Ciaran McKeever have both been rested having travelled to Australia recently for the International Rules series, and the Orchard County have also lost Kieran Toner, who has emigrated to Australia. Armagh will also be without their influential Crossmaglen players for the McKenna Cup.
O’Rourke however is upbeat and has encouraged the new boys to do the business for Armagh starting this weekend against rivals Down, “It’s an opportunity for other lads to stand up, make their name and claim a place. They can make it so that these other players will have to work very hard if they want to get back into the team.”
He continued, “There is always one year when a player steps up and does it. There are plenty of good young players about there. Some of them have to step forward and produce the goods. If they are in there playing regular games, then they have a better chance of doing that. These games in the McKenna Cup will give players the chance to find their feet at senior county level and we may then be in a position to have a more settled side for the National League.”
It is perhaps a fitting start to the 2012 intercounty season for both Down and Armagh having battled it out three times last year. Armagh will have the bragging rights going in to Sunday’s game having defeated Down 1-15 to 1-10 in last year’s Ulster Championship in May. The Mourne Men of course defeated Armagh 0-12 to 0-11 in last year’s National Football League however Armagh ran out winners in the very same McKenna Cup fixture this time last year, defeating Down 2-15 to 3-11 under the lights at Pairc Esler.
Armagh’s new players will be going in to the game with a point to prove, however Down still look strong and despite losing key players, still have several in their side that made it to the 2010 All Ireland final. Players like Mark Poland, Danny Hughes and Benny Coulter will prove to be key for the Mourne Men. Connor Gough, who recently moved to Down from Armagh, could also prove to be an important figure this Sunday in Newry. Results from a recent Newry Times survey show that our readers fancy Down to run out winners this weekend, with 63% going for a Down win. 31% went with Armagh and 6% said the result will be a draw.
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