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Armagh's McKenna Cup bid hit by injury concerns with league looming

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney may have been afforded a little extra breathing space following the postponement of last night's Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal, but the reprieve is unlikely to mean he will be able to field a significantly strengthened side for Saturday's fixture at Ballybofey (6pm).

Ethan Rafferty, Ben Crealey, Brendan Donaghy, Rory Grugan and Aidan Forker could yet miss the tie following injuries they incurred in last Sunday's 1-15 to 0-13 win over Derry.

This month's competition has been bedevilled by postponements, which in itself has caused problems for team bosses, but the potential loss of another clutch of players serves to intensify McGeeney's worries, particularly with the opening Allianz League game just 10 days away.

"Obviously (the) game was always in doubt given the weather, but the loss of players is a blow. We want to have a look at other players, of course, but we also want to win against Donegal," said McGeeney. "It is not easy to replace players of this calibre, assuming they are ruled out, and as things stand they will be lucky to see action next week."

Despite the losses of Stefan Campbell, James Morgan and Jamie Clarke before a ball was kicked this year, Armagh have managed to remain unbeaten at competitive level to date and, while McGeeney initially welcomed another match in the McKenna Cup, he is now wary that any further injuries could have serious ramifications for his side.

But he points to what he sees as the positives as his team focus on remaining unbeaten prior to the start of the league.

"We have people like Gavin McParland, Eugene McVerry and Michael McKenna to come back in, and this will be a boost," added McGeeney.

But with the McKenna Cup final now scheduled for the week-end of February 17/18, McGeeney has concerns that if his side were to overcome Donegal and set up a decider against holders Tyrone he might yet again find himself shorn of several regulars.

"Players will already have targeted that weekend as a break and an opportunity to catch their breath, but we will just have to see how we go," McGeeney commented.

"It's good to be still in the competition and we want to do our best to win it."

Ulster Council officials convened yesterday to re-fix dates for the remaining semi-final and final amid mounting criticism surrounding the staging of the competition in January.

It has been felt for some time that the perennial threat of adverse weather could seriously disrupt the competition, and this has proved very much the case this time, particularly as the league will have an earlier start.

This is likely to remain the case in future, which means the Ulster Council might have to amend its early-season fixtures calendar.

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