A number of Ulster counties are preparing to welcome back some of their high-profile players as they target strong finishes to the Allianz Football League prior to setting their sights on possible championship success
Armagh, Derry, Tyrone and Down are hoping to bolster their resources as they focus on the last two rounds of the league while still keeping their respective forthcoming provincial championship campaigns very much on the radar.
For Armagh, securing two points at Galway’s expense at the Athletic Grounds next weekend has now become vital for survival in Division One given that visiting teams rarely fare well against Cork whom they meet the following Sunday.
Manager Paddy O’Rourke is pragmatic in assessing his team’s chances, conscious that they have under-achieved to date.
“We certainly need another win if we are to stay in Division One. One of our big problems is that because we have not enough scoring forwards, opposing sides find it more straightforward to map out their defensive plans when they meet us,” admits O’Rourke.
Certainly, the absence of Ronan Clarke and Jamie Clarke is being keenly felt by Armagh and although the latter is now expected to return against Galway, Ronan’s return to the side is still on ice.
“While we are delighted to be welcoming back our Crossmaglen boys, Ronan’s situation is different. The medics expect him to be back in full training by the end of next week but he will need to get some club games under his belt to help bring him up to full match fitness,” explains O’Rourke.
And he adds: “The Armagh leagues have not started yet so we will have to be patient for a little longer.
“We don’t want to rush Ronan. We had him in this position before but he broke down in training — we don’t want to repeat that. He needs club football before he can come back to the county side.”
Derry, meanwhile, expect to have experienced trio Paddy Bradley, Barry McGoldrick and Mark Lynch, all of whom did not start in the defeat to Donegal, back from the word go for the home game against Meath while Philip Jordan and Brian Dooher have returned to full training with Tyrone just as Mickey Harte’s side bid to sustain what has developed into a promotion push in their games against Kildare next weekend and then Meath.
And Down manager James McCartan can take heart that solid defenders Conor Garvey and Daniel McCartan are well on the way to peak fitness now and will come into contention for places against Dublin next Saturday night and Kerry in a fortnight.
Antrim are striving to avoid relegation from Division Two but the anticipated return of Tómas McCann for the vital games against high-flying Donegal tomorrow week and Derry in two weeks time will be a bonus for manager Liam Bradley.
The Saffrons are confronted by huge relegation worries and unless their injury situation improves they will find it difficult to pick up points at the expense of Donegal or Derry, both of whom have their sights set on Division One.
They are also due to meet Donegal again in the first round of the Ulster Championship on May 15.