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Armagh's McDonnell out to join the elite

By John Campbell

Ulster has already provided the National Football League with two of its real hotshots — and there could be a lot more to come from both of them.

With just two rounds of the competition completed, Armagh’s long-serving forward Stevie McDonnell has already totted up an impressive 1-15 while Antrim sharpshooter Paddy Cunningham has collected 1-13.

Not only have the scoring exploits of these two master finishers further embellished their own reputations but their significant hauls to date have triggered the prospect of promotion for their respective sides.

McDonnell (31), who has given Armagh outstanding service for over a decade, landed 0-6 (three frees) in his team’s one-point opening round defeat against Meath at Navan but really hit the jackpot in spectacular style against Westmeath last Sunday when he landed 1-9 from play in a stunning solo show.

Not to be outdone, Cunningham, who skippered Antrim last year when they won promotion from Division Four and reached the Ulster final, collated 1-5 (0-2 frees) against Sligo and then underlined his immense value to his side when he racked up 0-8 (0-4 frees) in their handsome win over Cavan at the weekend.

Yet while both players have spurted to the top of the scoring charts, they are keeping their feet firmly on the ground aware that much more demanding challenges await their sides when the league resumes next month.

All Ireland winner and former Ulster skipper McDonnell, while happy that the Orchard County got off the mark against Westmeath, points to his team’s next outing against Laois as “crucial” in their bid to make the leap from Division Two into the top bracket.

“Laois may have been overturned by Donegal last weekend but they will be hurting and in consequence will be dangerous opponents.

“I know a lot of people are already talking about our forthcoming games against Donegal, Down and Kildare as very attractive ties but you can take it from me that we as players are looking no further than Laois.

“We have to travel to them and they are never easy opponents in Portlaoise,” insists construction company contracts manager McDonnell who plays his club football with Killeavy.

If Armagh’s desire to join the Division One elite is pronounced, then Antrim’s wish to make it back-to-back promotion coups is no less marked. And the free-scoring Cunningham believes that if the team can maintain its present form anything is possible.

“It’s worth pointing that we are short about eight players at the minute including the St Gall’s boys who are focused on their All Ireland Club semi-final this week. Now that we are in Division Three we are obviously very keen to retain our slot there,” he said.

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