Seven Ulster players are included in the first 18 players to be named by Ireland International Rules manager Anthony Tohill for the forthcoming two-Test series against Australia.
The province will provide the vice-captain for the series, this honour going to Armagh defender Ciaran McKeever while Dublin’s All-Ireland winning hero Stephen Cluxton will skipper the team.
McKeever (27), who plays for the St Patrick’s club in Cullyhanna, has already played in the International Rules series in Australia and is highly rated by Tohill for his skill, commitment and leadership skills. He has captained Armagh in the past.
Tohill is keeping his options open in relation to naming the final five players who will go to make up his 23-strong travelling squad and these will be selected from the original panel of 31.
Cluxton’s appointment as captain caused some surprise as Armagh’s Steven McDonnell was thought to be in the running for this role but the Dublin goalkeeper has shown a strong commitment to the Rules build-up, even foregoing All-Ireland celebrations to attend training and briefing sessions.
Tohill has thus rewarded him for his selfless commitment with the captaincy.
Indeed, Derry 1993 All-Ireland winner Tohill has already expressed himself as being “well satisfied” with the level of training and preparation to date.
“I would like to sincerely thank all on the panel who have trained extremely hard over the past number of weeks. The level of commitment has been exemplary” said Tohill at Croke Park yesterday.
“The strong interest shown among players demonstrates the enthusiasm for the game and the importance players place on representing their country.”
Tohill has overseen an intensive build-up which has spanned a number of weeks and now believes that he has the right blend of players for the task in hand.
“Australia on their own soil are never easy to beat and they will be very anxious to retain the trophy.
“For our part, we are very determined to recapture the Cormac McAnallen Cup and show that we are a team in every sense of the word,” added Tohill.
In addition to McKeever, Kevin McKernan (Down), Joe McMahon (Tyrone), Darren Hughes (Monaghan) and Michael Murphy and Neil McGee (both Donegal) will be on the plane for Down Under the weekend after next.
McKernan is due to line out for Burren in Saturday’s Down football championship final against Clonduff but should his team, win, the Ulster Council has agreed in principle to switching their Ulster club championship tie if appropriate.
Donegal’s Karl Lacey is a notable absentee from the 18-man squad but it is understood that he is continuing to be troubled by the ankle injury which he received while playing against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.
GAA President Christy Cooney has expressed the hope that Ireland can win the series and give the Association a shot in the arm after some bad publicity recently.
“I know that, with the backing of Anthony and his selectors, they will give their utmost to bring the Cormac McAnallen Cup back to Ireland,” declared Cooney.