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Kieran McGeeney is in pursuit of quality at Armagh

By John Campbell

Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney plans to put several Crossmaglen Rangers players under the microscope in Sunday's Ulster Club Championship final at the Athletic Grounds.

Already shorn of several players for different reasons going into the new season, McGeeney is anxious to see some of Rangers' emerging talent make their pitch for county recognition by turning in impressive performances against Monaghan champions Scotstown.

Finian Moriarty, Steven Harold, Caolan Rafferty and Jamie Clarke are among those who will be conspicuous by their absence when Armagh swing into action against Louth in the O'Fiaich Cup semi-final on December 11 and McGeeney is now strongly focused on bolstering his squad.

The Orchard County face a stiff examination of their credentials in Division Two of the Allianz League and by the time the competition gets under way at the end of January, McGeeney hopes to have the nucleus of a settled side at his disposal.

The O'Fiaich and McKenna Cup competitions offer him the opportunity to hone his squad while Sunday's Club Championship final can again showcase the fresh reservoir of talent contained within the Crossmaglen Rangers side.

James Morgan, Tony Kernan and of course Jamie Clarke were the club's representatives on the Armagh side throughout this year but in recent times Aidan Rushe, Johnny Hanratty (pictured), Oisin O'Neill and Rico Kelly in particular have shown they are capable of augmenting the club's contingent within McGeeney's line-up.

Rushe has been hugely impressive at full-back, Hanratty is currently proving an inspirational force at midfield, O'Neill is a clever marksman and Kelly's physical strength and versatility underpin his value to the team.

For the moment, though, McGeeney is keeping an open mind as he ponders a Division Two campaign that will include testing assignments against Ulster rivals Tyrone, Derry, Cavan and Fermanagh.

"I think that games against these Ulster teams and those against Laois, Galway and Meath in Division Two will be good preparation for the Championship," insisted McGeeney.

"This year we put a certain emphasis on getting out of Division Three but we were not happy with our Championship form at all. We can have no complaints, though, as Galway were the better team on the day when they beat us in the qualifiers.

"We have to improve our want and hunger next year in both the league and Championship."

And McGeeney is in no doubt as to what he sees as an essential pre-requisite for potential county players.

"The biggest thing that such players need is the desire to wear the county jersey," declared McGeeney.

"That is the number one priority. It does not matter how talented you are, desire is the main thing. There is no doubt that the players who have already indicated that they will not be there next year will be a big loss to us but there is always somebody there who will be prepared to step up into their place.

"Their absence really provides some other players with an opportunity to show what they can do and I hope to see such players emerge as we move along."

McGeeney has already conducted an in-depth analysis of youthful talent within the county and is encouraged by what he has observed to date.

"There are some very talented young lads coming through," he revealed.

"We have a development squad in which the players are showing great enthusiasm and commitment.

"You have players such as Joe McElroy, Aaron McKay, Shay Heavron, Rory McCaughey and a number of others as well who are all pushing to get onto the county senior team.

"The harder they push means that the players who are already in the team have to try harder and ensure that they can hold onto their own places. The more that bar rises, the more competitive we will be in 2016."

With a new sponsorship package embracing Simplyfruit, Mac Interiors and O'Neill's International Sportswear in place, a go-ahead Director of Operations in former county player Brian Mallon and dynamic leadership from chairman Paul McArdle and his deputy Michael Geoghegan, Armagh's off-field machinery has been considerably enhanced.

And McGeeney added: "That's fantastic. Now it's a bit more success on the field of play that we want."

Belfast Telegraph


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