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Armagh can now push on and deliver, says O'Neill

 

Making strides: Crossmaglen’s Oisin O’Neill gets away from Cian O’Maolagain of Gweedore
Making strides: Crossmaglen’s Oisin O’Neill gets away from Cian O’Maolagain of Gweedore
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

While many will reflect on Armagh's 2019 as one of great promise - the year included their first Ulster win under Kieran McGeeney after five years of trying before a thumping victory over Monaghan and pushing Mayo close in the qualifiers - it ultimately ended in frustration for Oisin O'Neill.

The Crossmaglen Rangers player was laid up for most of the year with an ankle injury that required an operation, but returned in time to lead his side to another Club Championship from centre-forward.

It gave him some relief after a season of what he described as pure frustration - and now he has promised that there is more to come.

"From a personal point of view, I got a bad injury with the club last year and I was only coming back into full fitness whenever Armagh were beaten by Mayo in the Championship," he said.

"But collectively as well, we were frustrated. We felt we had the group of players there that could push on. For 2020, we have said there cannot be any more moral victories, we can't just be the good entertainers. We have to push on now and deliver."

Coming from a club environment where success is an expectation rather than an aspiration, the nephew of 2002 All-Ireland winner Oisin McConville believes that Armagh should be challenging for the highest honours.

"That's the way it has been for a couple of years now. We have been involved in some great games, but ultimately that's not why we as players are there. We are there to be successful and to hopefully win things for Armagh," he said.

"We took the attitude in training that we are going to be really competitive and have a real focus for the McKenna Cup."

That attitude starts within as he first looks to establish himself on the panel, then the team.

He said: "Between the time Armagh were beaten by Mayo and the start of the Club Championship with Cross, I was able to get a really good block of training in. There were two months where there wasn't much happening so I was able to use that as a good pre-season.

"Personally, this year I hope I am able to force myself onto the team. Armagh is an incredibly tough and competitive squad, even to break into the 26. We have 45 at training every night and everyone is there to try and get one of those jerseys.

"So I am no different, nobody is any different no matter how many years you have played. You have to be ready to go every night you go to training."

One huge positive from 2019 was the form of Oisin's brother, Rian. He lit up the Championship with his goalscoring and over the weekend took part in an AFL Combine as he sought to catch the eye of scouts looking for talent to play Australian Rules Football.

"Rian and I would be competitive," he noted.

"I suppose we are close as well, there are only 18 months between us and we have always played on the same teams, the same school teams even, when we went to St Colman's of Newry.

"I suppose anyone who watched club football in Armagh would have known that he was ready to make the step up. The thing is with Armagh, we have another younger group of players coming through now that are ready to add to the thing as well."

Armagh go into 2020 once again under the guidance of their All-Ireland-winning captain McGeeney. It will be his sixth year in charge after a spell managing Kildare as soon as he retired as a player.

McGeeney has been in inter-county action ever since he made the minor team in the late 1980s and his dedication to the welfare of his players is something that anyone who has played under him will testify to.

After Armagh's defeat to Mayo, McGeeney had questioned whether he would stay on in the role.

Bringing Cavan to a replay in the Ulster Championship was an indicator that the wheel has turned for them after some weak performances in their own province. But the reaction of his players would have convinced him.

"We were all unanimous in our decision that we wanted Kieran to stay," stated O'Neill.

"We felt, and we do feel, that we have something strong building and there's been a lot of work done and in the next year or two we are ready to make a big step up."

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