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McKeever retires from county football as a great, says Joe Kernan

By Declan Bogue

Former Armagh manager Joe Kernan has hailed Ciaran McKeever as one of the finest markers in the modern game. The praise came after the Cullyhanna man brought an end to his 15-year career in county football, having captained Armagh to an All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2004, won four Ulster titles and represented Ireland in four International Rules series.

McKeever, who captained the Orchard for an astonishing six seasons, was initially brought into the senior set-up by Kernan for a weekend training camp at the home of Bath Rugby in 2003, while just a minor.

"I thought the experience of bringing him would not grill him as such, but getting him into that environment would do him the world of good," Kernan told the Belfast Telegraph.

"And the fact of the matter was that he matured quicker than we thought he would.

"He was one of those boys you looked at when they were in the minors and you knew that he was able to hold his own, do a job for you and he fitted in well."

For Kernan, McKeever's greatest strength in his younger days was his man-marking abilities. He later developed as a playmaker.

"There should be no stigma to that for the simple reason that in today's game, Lee Keegan has to stem his good qualities to do a man-marking job on Diarmuid Connolly," said Kernan.

"There is nothing wrong with that. There are very few boys that can do it as well and Ciaran was one of those men that could do it. For me, he was one of the best boys at that job.

"But then you find that with experience and older players seem to last because they are able to read situations, to make things look simple. While they are not able to do what they could have done before, they do other things better."

McKeever issued a retirement statement through the Gaelic Players' Association. It read: "Having met with Kieran McGeeney at the end of 2016 after undergoing two operations, I was unsure of my inter-county future but we decided to try and get the body right for one more year and I believe the time is now right.

"Playing for Armagh was a fantastic experience and I would like to thank the many people who supported me during my career, particularly my parents Majella and Michael as well as all my family and friends.

"I'd like to pay special thanks to Kieran McGeeney, who I always looked up to as a youngster from my days travelling to watch Armagh play. When I joined the squad in 2003, he took me under his wing and helped me develop as a player, taught me what commitment and values were required to play for Armagh and I'm glad my journey has ended under his watch.

"I'd like to wish Kieran and the Armagh squad all the best in 2018 and into the future."

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