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Ciaran McKeever out to recapture glory

By John Campbell

Armagh captain Ciaran McKeever is keeping his fingers crossed that a depressing series of personal injuries has come to an end as he focuses on striving to bring the Ulster Championship title back to his county.

Last year a serious knee problem saw the Cullyhanna man, who is now playing with the Plunketts club in Dublin, miss the Allianz League and then just when he was nearing recovery, he tore his plantar fasciitis before the All-Ireland qualifier against Meath.

And the early part of this year provided further heartbreak for McKeever, who led Armagh to the All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2004. He incurred damaged ribs in the opening league tie against Tipperary and then suffered a viral infection which subsequently limited his input into the side.

But right now the 32-year-old defender has his sights set on lowering Donegal's colours in Sunday's mouth-watering showdown at the Athletic Grounds.

While he takes consolation from Armagh's gutsy display against the reigning provincial champions in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final, McKeever believes that Donegal have maintained their momentum under Rory Gallagher and won't be fazed by the intimidating atmosphere at the Athletic Grounds.

"We were in a great position going into the last 10 minutes of that game last year when we were one point up," recalled McKeever. "We held that lead for six minutes, we had numerous opportunities to kill the game off and we didn't take them."

While McKeever feels Armagh have absorbed lessons from that defeat by Donegal, proof will need to be provided on Sunday.

"Last year we met them after we had played five or six games on the bounce. We were in really great form," stated McKeever. "But this time it is different. Donegal have that win over Tyrone under their belts while we have been idle for seven weeks."

McKeever, who shared in many Armagh successes in his earlier years, would relish a return to that triumphant era.

"When you first come in and you are competing in Ulster finals all the time, All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals and even the All-Ireland final in 2003, you felt it was never going to end," he recalled.

"Since Jim McGuinness took over Donegal they have been one of the top teams in Ireland.

"As a footballer you always love a challenge. You want to pit yourself against the best and Donegal are certainly right up there among the very best."

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