Crossmaglen’s success gives Armagh boss O’Rourke a headache
Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke is resigned to be without several first-choice players for the McKenna Cup and perhaps the greater part of the National League.
Crossmaglen Rangers’ Ulster club title triumph ensures their participation in the All-Ireland club championship semi-finals in February and this means that Paul Hearty, Aaron Kernan, Tony Kernan, David McKenna and Jamie Clarke will be unavailable to the orchard county boss.
Should the Rangers make it into the All-Ireland club final which is scheduled for Croke Park on March 17, this means that these players may not see county action until April.
And the Rangers involvement in the All-Ireland club series will delay the expected elevation of players such as James Morgan and Aaron Cunningham to the county squad given their consistently impressive performances for their club this year.
County boss O’Rourke could be faced with another problem as there is speculation that midfield ace Kieran Toner may be contemplating heading to Australia.
Toner has been the mainstay of the Armagh engine-room for the past five years and played for his club Granemore, who reached the semi-finals of this year’s Armagh club championship in which they were eventually beaten by Ballymacnab.
Toner (24) is regarded as one of the best midfielders in the province and his absence from the Armagh side, even for a short period, would certainly be felt.
O’Rourke can look to Charlie Vernon and James Lavery as a short-term midfield pairing but may have to exercise patience as he awaits McKenna’s return.
Armagh have a particularly demanding itinerary in Division One of the National League with their first match at home against Cork in the Morgan Athletic Grounds on February 4.
Meanwhile, Derry manager John Brennan, deprived of several players this year because of long-term injuries, has received a timely boost now that Chrissy McKaigue has turned his back on Australian Rules Football.
The Slaughtneil clubman is committing himself to the Oak Leaf cause for next season and will certainly bolster the squad. He has of course previously represented Derry and his energy and versatility would prove valuable assets to Brennan.
“I want to try and earn my place in the Derry side. I would relish the chance to play inter-county football on a regular basis again,” said McKaigue.
Loughgiel boss P J O’Mullan and his players will take a keen interest in the outcome of Sunday’s Munster hurling final replay between Na Piarsaigh and Crusheen at Semple Stadium, Thurles.
The high standard of play in last Sunday’s drawn tie has already struck a chord with the Loughgiel management and squad.
The Antrim and Ulster champions are due to meet the winners of the Munster showdown in the All-Ireland club semi-finals in February.