Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Armagh skipper Ciaran McKeever set to put club ahead of Ireland's call

Club call: Ciaran McKeever, one of Ireland's best Rules players, is facing a club versus country dilemma

Ciaran McKeever has good cause to remember the 2011 International Rules series in Australia.

The Armagh skipper suddenly found himself parachuted into a front line role when Ireland captain Stephen Cluxton declined to conduct media interviews Down Under, thus entrusting this role to vice-captain McKeever.

There was surprise initially that Cluxton had been handed the captain's armband given his well-known aversion to the media but McKeever carried out his task with considerable distinction throughout the series which Ireland won.

And now that the squad for the renewal of rivalry with the Aussies in this country later this month has been confirmed, McKeever finds himself again in the spotlight.

His club, St Patrick's Cullyhanna, will face Crossmaglen Rangers in the Armagh final on Sunday week, the day after Ireland tackle Australia in the first Test at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan.

It's the first time in their 125-year history that the St Patrick's side has reached the Armagh decider and given McKeever's enormous influence, a confrontation without his presence would be "utterly unthinkable" according to one club official.

While McKeever is known to be particularly keen to play for Ireland, he is also a figurehead within a St Patrick's side that has taken the Armagh Championship by storm.

Ireland skipper Michael Murphy also finds himself on the horns of a dilemma now that the Donegal Competitions Control Committee has turned down a request from his club Glenswilly to have their county final against surprise packet Killybegs scheduled for Sunday week postponed until Friday, October 25.

Because this is the start of a Bank Holiday weekend in the Republic, it was felt a stand-alone fixture on that particular night would not do justice to the status of the match.

Now McKeever may be left with no choice but to reduce his involvement with the Irish squad for the opening Test on Saturday week in order that he can assist St Patrick's in what will be the biggest match in their history.

Ireland manager Paul Earley is understood to be sympathetic to McKeever's plight. The player has given Ireland 100 per cent commitment and is regarded as one of the finest exponents of the Rules code.

He made an outstanding debut in the code when he was one of Ireland's best performers in the first Test in Perth in 2008. His influence within the Armagh team is huge and he has four Ulster Championship medals to his name.

"These issues come up from time to time and have to be addressed," says Earley.

"Our preparations are going well but we have to assess the demands that are being made on individual players."

St Patrick's manager Jody Gormley is certainly hoping to have McKeever on board, particularly as his experience will be required against a Crossmaglen side bidding to land an 18th title in 17 years.

"Obviously we want to be at full strength for such an important game. This is a rare opportunity for St Patrick's to win an Armagh title, after all," points out Gormley.

The Down final between Burren and Kilcoo is also scheduled for Sunday week and with Kevin McKernan ruled out of contention for Ireland's game against Australia, there are fears that he may not now be able to line out for Burren.

McKernan is a pivotal player in the Burren side and has played a big part in their journey into the final.

Down officials expect a bumper crowd at Pairc Esler, Newry for a match that has titillated the taste buds of fans.

"We had been hoping for an attractive pairing and we certainly have got it," says Down spokesman Paul Rooney.

"It should be a tremendous occasion," he adds.

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