A partnership that brought glory to Armagh in 2002 has now been renewed in a bid to see Ulster crowned inter-provincial championship kings
John McCloskey was one of Joe Kernan’s trusty lieutenants in tandem with Paul Grimley when Kernan guided the orchard county to their only All Ireland title to date six years ago and has now teamed up up with the Crossmaglen legend again as part of the Ulster management team.
Belfast-based McCloskey was Derry’s trainer this year when Paddy Crozier was in charge but is now no longer involved with the Oak Leaf county.
Instead, he is focussing on his teaching job and personal trainer routine but agreed to come on board when Kernan was appointed as Ulster manager in succession to Brian McEniff.
“I did not have to think twice. I enjoyed my time with Armagh where I have made many friends but I am now very much immersed with Ulster.
“We are looking forward to meeting Munster tomorrow and although it’s a long haul to Dungarvan, the squad is very much up for the challenge,” maintains McCloskey.
The fact that a number of leading players from the province are currently with the International Rules squad in Australia and that some others are unavailable for a variety of reasons means that Ulster will be at considerably less than full strength.
But McCloskey insists that the players’ desire to don the provincial jersey has been an encouraging aspect of the build-up.
“Those players who are available have been very much engrossed in what has been going on and I think we will be travelling with confidence ,” adds McCloskey.
Ulster’s defence is likely to be underpinned by three of Tyrone’s All Ireland winners, Conor Gormley, Philip Jordan and Davy Harte, while Monaghan’s Eoin Lennon will play a holding role in midfield.
Up front, Kernan will look to the finishing skills of Seanie Johnston (Cavan), Tommy Freeman (Monaghan) and Ronan Clarke (Armagh).
Johnston was superb for Cavan this year and has since played a leading role in helping Cavan Gaels land the county championship title while Freeman enhanced his reputation with the Farney county.
Clarke’s inspirational forays were not enough to help Pearse Og halt Crossmaglen’s march to their 13th consecutive Armagh crown last week-end but the player is hoping to gain consolation with his province.