Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Armagh's rising stars to shine, says McGrane

Paul McGrane (left) says the loss of Stevie McDonnell (right) and other key men is a massive blow for Armagh

Former Armagh All-Ireland winning midfield ace Paul McGrane has warned that his county faces “a dangerous mission” as they prepare to bid for honours next year.

McGrane, regarded as one of the best midfielders ever to have emerged from Ulster, believes that while new manager Paul Grimley will bring a fresh dynamic to the squad, the fact that several experienced players will be conspicuous by their absence could militate against the team’s chances of progress.

But in making a plea to fans to show patience, McGrane — an imposing figure in the middle third of the pitch when Armagh enjoyed their finest hour in 2002 — makes the point that the Orchard County’s current platoon of younger players could gain invaluable experience over the course of the next 12 months.

“When you think about it, this year Armagh were without what anyone would regard as the best possible full-forward line of Jamie Clarke, Ronan Clarke and Steven McDonnell,” observes McGrane.

“Now once again we have a situation going into 2013 where Jamie may be unavailable because of global travelling, Ronan’s career is apparently in jeopardy because of recurring injury and Stevie of course is retired.

“We also don’t know if Andy Mallon will be available while Billy Joe Padden has stepped down from the squad.”

Armagh face a demanding itinerary in Division Two of the Allianz League but it’s the Ulster Championship preliminary round fixture away to Cavan that causes McGrane, a partner in a busy Lurgan accounting practice, most apprehension.

“No team wants to be drawn in the preliminary round and Armagh will not relish going to Kingspan Breffni Park,” maintains McGrane.

“Donegal were of course involved in the preliminary round in each of the last two seasons but they showed themselves to be a truly exceptional team under an inspirational manager.

“Tradition has it that teams involved in the preliminary round invariably find the going tough but if Armagh could manage to hurdle Cavan in what is a dangerous mission for them then anything could happen.”

Cavan may not have hit the high spots at senior level lately but McGrane suggests that Terry Hyland’s side have considerable grounds for optimism.

“Cavan have won the last two Ulster Under-21 Championship titles, they have a lot of young players coming through at senior level and even at schools level the county has got a shot in the arm by the manner in which St Patrick’s College won the Rannafast Cup last week,” points out the Ballyhegan clubman.

McGrane concurs with the theory that Armagh are in transition but believes Paul Grimley’s commitment and coaching expertise can point the way to a better future.

“The question is whether the team will have the overall experience and physical power for what lies ahead but I would have great faith in Paul and I know he will do everything possible to help make Armagh strong again,” adds McGrane.

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