Armagh appeared to have been shorn of a rich ration of experience when Kieran Toner emigrated to Australia and Paul Duffy left the squad for personal reasons.
Manager Paddy O’Rourke’s initial disappointment has now been replaced by huge relief as both long-serving players have returned to immerse themselves fully in preparations for the Ulster Championship clash against Tyrone on June 10.
Toner curtailed his stay Down Under, the lure of the provincial flagship competition proving a factor in his return, while Duffy did an about-turn on his decision to defect from the Orchard County panel.
Yet although Toner and Duffy both boast impressive playing records with Armagh, they are united in the belief that they now face a difficult battle if they are to earn starting places against the Red Hands.
Toner, a central plank in the midfield zone for several seasons, candidly points to the influx of young players to the squad as “a big challenge” as he steps up his efforts to reclaim a slot to which he had earned automatic entitlement for so long.
“In terms of Championship fitness I am getting there slowly but surely,” said Granemore clubman Toner.
“I have a couple of weeks training over me and with a few still to go I have the incentive to become as sharp as I can.”
“All the boys who came into the team during the league did very well and it was unfortunate that we just failed to stay in Division One.
“They offer a big challenge to the more experienced players like me at this point in time.
“We have a bank of new players — people like Caolan Rafferty, Stefan Campbell, Michael Stevenson, John Kingham and others — and that’s what Armagh badly needs.
“We must think in the longer term and I believe that a lot of these boys will serve Armagh for years to come.”
The battle-hardened Toner is of course no stranger to the particularly intense exchanges which are the traditional hallmark of any meeting between Armagh and Tyrone.
“I’ve played against them a few times in the Championship and they are a very good side, but if we can get things right on the day we have to be in with a chance especially as we are at home,” said Toner.
Nor is the dynamic Duffy, who has served Armagh well both at half-forward and half-back, in the slightest fazed by the impending visit of Mickey Harte’s troops to the Morgan Athletic Grounds.
“I’m just delighted to be involved with the squad again and my aim is to try and get some game time against Tyrone if I can manage that, but of course the competition for places will be very strong,” insists the recently-wed Duffy.
“Paddy O’Rourke has brought several new faces this year and they have not disappointed him. The bar has been raised for the rest of us but that’s a good thing.
“Managers want options all over the park if they can get this and Paddy certainly appears to be achieving this goal — and at a crucial time of the year too.”