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Hard work giving the Orchard a real edge, insists ace Sheridan

Look ahead: Stevie McDonnell made a prediction in 2017
Look ahead: Stevie McDonnell made a prediction in 2017
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Prior to the 2017 Ulster Championship and Armagh playing Down in Newry, the 2003 Footballer of the Year Stevie McDonnell made a bold prediction about the Orchard attack.

They may have spent their league campaign in Division Three, he said, but the quality of the forward unit was of a Division One pedigree.

Hitting 2-7 to Down's 0-15 would soon disabuse him of the notion, but there is a sense now that two years down the line, Armagh are closer to such a bold claim than they ever have been since they last won a provincial title over a decade ago.

With Jamie Clarke and Stefan Campbell back in harness after a year out, with exciting Crossmaglen man Rian O'Neill between them and with the prolific Jack Grugan also waiting in the wings ready to gobble up the opportunities, they are brimming with threat ahead of tonight's McKenna Cup final against Tyrone.

Underpinning it is the defensive platform that midfielder Stephen Sheridan provides.

Sheridan revealed: "Players' games develop and Stefan and Jamie are back in this year. They have worked tirelessly hard to get back into the panel. There was nothing given to them, they have worked very, very hard.

"There are other players in there too, the likes of Ryan Kennedy is back in the panel and he has slotted into a full-back position. A lovely player.

"Jack Grugan, he had a really, really good Club Championship last year and he is relishing his chance in an orange jersey. When you look at our panel, you have 45 lads looking to put that jersey on.

"We feel that if you can get that buy-in from that amount of players, it doesn't matter what 15 starts or 20 see action, you will always have a good sense of achievement because you have lads putting in the hard yards for each other, and that's what we build everything around."

Sheridan is one of three Forkhill players on the Armagh team at present. The others are Patrick Burns, a cousin of Jarlath Óg Burns, and Jemar Hall, a nephew of Joey Cunningham who has an uncanny likeness in his footballing style.

"We're a small club, we had players in the past (who would have played for the county). Joey Cunningham started out before he went to Crossmaglen. We would have had the McCoys, Dessie McCoy was a big player for Armagh, but it's been a long time since there was three in the panel at any time," software developer Sheridan said.

There's an earnestness about Sheridan that proves the awesomeness of persistence.

First drafted into the county panel at the age of 23, he didn't have a minute of proper competitive action for two full seasons and yet was name-checked by manager Kieran McGeeney last Sunday after the win over Donegal as one who had been there 'for the long haul', alongside Rory Grugan and Aidan Forker.

When he graduated and sought a job in software, he had two offers on the table. One was with a big, impersonal established firm, the other a start-up that excited him, but would guarantee nothing but a lot of work. He chose the start-up.

He doesn't do nonsense either. Tonight, two teams will go all out for a win, but once the Dr McKenna Cup is handed over the destination doesn't matter.

Everything is then about Kildare and the start of the league next Sunday.

"Tyrone are going to bring a challenge. We know how seriously they take this competition but we are just using it as another stepping stone to prepare us for Kildare in Newbridge next Sunday and, to be honest, that's our main goal," stated Sheridan bluntly.

"Saturday night will come, we are going to go out there, we are competing for silverware which is nice but we are under no illusion that our main focus is on Kildare."

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