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Orchard's youth get the chance to blossom in opener

By Declan Bogue

Published 30/01/2016

Calling the shots: Kieran McGeeney admits he is throwing Armagh’s young talent in at the deep end
Calling the shots: Kieran McGeeney admits he is throwing Armagh’s young talent in at the deep end

Heading into Armagh's National League opener away to Meath tomorrow, boss Kieran McGeeney admits some of his young debutants are in for a baptism of fire - but they won't be making any excuses off the back of that.

"Shea Heffron has come in, he is a great young player. Aaron McKay, Joe McElroy and Niall Grimley have shown promise," pointed out McGeeney, who begins his second season in charge in earnest at Pairc Tailteann, now that the shadow boxing of the Dr McKenna Cup is out of the way.

"We are throwing them in at the deep end. We go out against Meath in Navan, it's a big step up. A big strong team.

"That's where you would love more games. We have seven. So by the end of March, we would have played six, maybe another one or two in April.

"You nearly have to have your team decided by then because you only have one or two more competitive games left before we go out to Cavan (in the Ulster Championship)."

McGeeney is in the happy position of being able to start the returning Mark Shields, while Kevin Dyas makes the bench.

"(We are) trying to get them at the right level without pushing them. We have very good medical staff, Paul Carragher and people like that," he continued.

"It is going to be tough, but if you went to the other managers they could give you the same list of woes."

While many are concentrating on the potential for fireworks in an Ulster-heavy Division Two, the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain injects some realism into the conversation when he points to the sheer quality of the top flight in comparison.

"I am not trying to be derogatory to the other teams or anything like that, but we are a step below the Dublins, the Kerrys - we just are at the moment. But these games, probably Tyrone, and judging by what Derry are doing, they would be front-runners," he added.

"I think they are going to be great games for this team and give us a great sense of where we are before the Championship. I think we were a good bit off that last year."

In the wake of the Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal last summer, McGeeney pointed at the gap in quality between where they had spent their respective league campaigns, stating: "Division Three to Division One, you are going to get away with things like that against smaller teams but not against Donegal."

As a result, he agrees that they can take much more from this spring, in preparation for the Ulster Championship.

"Every game is winnable. We are going to be competitive," he said.

"The last three going into the Championship will definitely let you know where you are standing in terms of where you are going."

Without Caolan Rafferty, Jamie Clarke and others, McGeeney has lamented how players are less likely to serve an apprenticeship on county squads.

"It's a different lifestyle now. Even everything is recorded, everything is instantaneous. People want instantaneous results," he explained.

"It wasn't uncommon for the likes of Steven McDonnell to come in and sit on the bench for two years before he started. Steven would remind us that he played corner-back in his first year of training.

"Same with Diarmuid (Marsden), Paul (McGrane) or myself. You have your ups and downs in the first couple of years. That's not accepted anymore by the public.

"If you are not playing for six months people are telling you, 'that boys being used as cannon fodder, what are you doing out there, wasting your time?'

"But you can't train with 15 players. It's impossible to train with 30, with the demands that are on different teams at this time of the year.

"That's the hardest part, the commitment and the passion to succeed at a level that you have to convince yourself that can mean something, but at the same time, understanding that it doesn't mean everything."

Belfast Telegraph

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