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A positive mindset can help Orchard to flourish, says Savage


By John Campbell

New Armagh chairman Michael Savage has moved to dispel an air of apprehension and uncertainty which has enveloped the county in the build-up to the new season.

The decision of a number of players to opt out of the Orchard County panel, the feeling that the side may encounter difficulty in extricating themselves from Division Three in the league and the challenge of trying to regain the Ulster title after an absence of 10 years all combine to provide a sombre backdrop as the countdown commences in earnest to the Dr McKenna Cup opener against Down on Wednesday week.

But Clady clubman Savage, whose late father Vincent was a long-time stalwart of the GAA in Armagh, prefers to dwell on what he sees as the positives in the countdown to 2018.

"It is a fact that we will be missing some players but so too will other counties," maintained Savage.

"I don't think there is anything to be gained by dwelling on this. Instead, I think we should be looking at the plus factors.

"We played Queen's in a challenge match on Wednesday night and we had almost 30 players on duty. As a matter of fact, this match had a dual benefit as Queen's included Armagh players such as Ben Crealey and Aidan Rushe, while aspiring players such as Calum O'Neill and Lorcan Quinn also came under the microscope."

In acknowledging that the absence of established personnel such as Jamie Clarke, James Morgan and Stefan Campbell will strip Armagh of valuable experience, Savage believes that other players will now get their chance to step up to the mark.

"I think there are boys in there who are very keen to wear the jersey with pride. Our manager Kieran McGeeney has been very thorough in his trawl for fresh faces and there is no doubt that there is a rich seam of talent within the county.

"Obviously, the challenge is to harness this into a winning combination as soon as possible, and I am confident that with co-operation from all sides this can be done," insisted Savage.

The performances of Niall Grimley with the Ireland team in the International Rules series in Australia, the huge success of the inaugural Armagh All-Star awards banquet and the fact that Maghery and Harps have moved to challenge the authority of Crossmaglen Rangers in the county championship, are all viewed as positive factors going forward.

"I think the most important thing is that players should want to play for Armagh and, while it is recognised that this might entail self-sacrifice, there is the chance that they will make their own mark and attain success," stated Savage.

Armagh are grouped with Down, Derry and UUJ in the Dr McKenna Cup and Savage believes that these three January matches will give an insight into the resources which manager McGeeney has at his disposal.

"We would of course like to make a good start to the season, but at the same time players have to find their feet and the management have to try and get the right blend," admitted Savage.

"The arrival of former Down manager Jim McCorry as part of our management team is very encouraging because he brings another layer of experience to the set-up.

"He seems to enjoy working with players, and that is heartening from our perspective.

"We know that it is going to be difficult to get out of Division Three in the league because there are a lot of sides in there who will feel they are capable of this but we must put our shoulder to the wheel from the outset."

The match against Down on Wednesday week may 'only' be an early-season McKenna Cup tie but Armagh are still feeling the hurt inflicted by their Mourne neighbours when they came out on top in the Ulster Championship at Pairc Esler, Newry during the summer.

And that's precisely where the Orchard County will head for their first match of the new campaign.

"After that we have matches against Derry and UUJ, both of which are at the Athletic Grounds, and we will know better where we are after these," added Savage.

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