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Ciaran McKeever return delights Armagh

By John Campbell

Armagh assistant manager Paul Grimley is relieved that the vastly experienced Ciaran McKeever, the team captain, will return to the heart of the defence for Sunday’s vital National Football League tie against Dublin at Croke Park.

McKeever’s absence due to a one-match ban was acutely felt in the defeat to Mayo at the Morgan Athletic Grounds on Saturday last.

But with doubts still surrounding the fitness of Charlie Vernon and Brian Mallon, both of whom were forced to retire by half-time with injuries in that game, the orchard county could still be weakened for what is one of their biggest tests in the competition.

“While it is encouraging that we will have Ciaran back, we have to face up to the fact that we have other worries. Brian trained on Tuesday night but Charlie took no part in the session. We will see how both are tonight and maybe defer a decision on their participation in the game,” says Grimley.

Gavin McParland started his first game of the year against Mayo and performed well, scoring a superb first-half point before being substituted after the break.

But with Stevie McDonnell, Jamie Clarke, Rory Grugan and Eugene McVerry still absentees from their attack, Armagh’s fire-power is rather more limited.

Yet despite the selection worries Grimley relishes Sunday’s trip to Headquarters.

“A game such as this is of considerable importance in terms of the ongoing development of the younger players in our side. Declan McKenna, Aidan Forker, Caolan Rafferty, John Kingham, Ryan Rafferty, Stefan Campbell and others have been making progress in the team and they are getting the opportunity to play against top-class sides which will make them better players,” insists Grimley.

Grimley and manager Paddy O’Rourke have already dissected Dublin’s handsome win over Laois last Saturday and pinpointed Eoghan O’Gara as a big threat to their team this weekend.

The enigmatic O’Gara has been in and out of the Dublin side over the past couple of seasons but appears to be in a rich vein of form at present.

In 2010 O’Gara played against Armagh in the All Ireland qualifiers but revealed raw edges and a suspect temperament. He has matured noticeably since then and is now regarded as a quality forward whose direct style can unsettle the best defences.

O’Rourke, for one, is in no doubt in relation to his attributes.

“He seems to have refined his game and his confidence is high now. He believes he is a top inter-county footballer — he is — and he's playing like one,” states O’Rourke. “You do find, and I've seen it down through the years, that some players don't fully develop until they are around 25 or 26. In O’Gara’s case, he seems to be one of these players.”

Even without the supremely talented Brogan brothers Bernard and Alan, Dublin were too strong for Laois and it was the energetic O’Gara and the more cultured Diarmuid Connolly who inflicted most hurt on Justin McNulty’s side.

“O’Gara and Connolly represent a big threat to us and we will need to be at the very top of our game defensively,” states O’Rourke.

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