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McKeever ready to lead from the front for Armagh

By Micheal McGeary

Following Paul McGrane as Armagh captain won’t be easy.

For if ever there was a role model it was the 34-year-old Lurgan accountant, who set the standard both on and off the pitch.

But Ciaran McKeever is relishing the challenge of leading Armagh into the 2009 Ulster senior football championship.

McKeever a very combative defender, hates losing and is a man determined to lead from the front.

A plasterer by trade, he led the Orchard county to All Ireland under 21 success in 2004 from centre-half-back and you always sensed it was only a matter of time until he graduated to the senior side.

It’s fashionable just now to describe Armagh as a team in transition, a none-too-subtle hint that they aren’t to be taken too seriously.

But it’s not a view the new captain concurs with.

“Some players who gave the county years and years of service have moved on, but that happens in life.

“But on the plus side there are a number of players on the bench who have been biding their time over the last few seasons.

“Looking back on the league, our aim was to get promotion and we were still in the frame until the last day of the season when losing to Cork.” he said.

That defeat, though, pales into insignificance compared with the dramatic All Ireland quarter final eclipse by Wexford last summer.

It’s something McKeever and h is colleagues won’t readily forget and even now the pain still lingers.

“We should have had them dead and buried early on, but once we gave them a sniff they were back in the match.

“If you give any team hope they are going to believe in themselves. Once they got the goal near the end we didn’t have time to regroup.” he said.

Six years ago Mickey Harte’s Tyrone overcame Armagh in the 2003 All Ireland decider and again came up trumps in the nailbiting 2005 All Ireland semi final.

That same year Armagh got the better of Tyrone in the Ulster final replay, but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.

Mickey Harte’s men added a second All Ireland in Septemebr 2005 and a third for good measure in 2008.

Growing up in Cullyhanna, Martin McQuillan of Armagh and Ulster fame, was the player McKeever set his heart on emulating.

Two years ago the same McQuillan belied the passing years when being named man of the match playing for Clady in the county junior final.

Now he just wants to see McKeever enjoy some of the success that came his way.

Ace attacker Ronan Clarke is delighted with the choice of McKeever as Armagh captain.

“He’s a great lad who gives 100 per cent every time he pulls on a jersey.

“If we all follow his example against Tyrone in Clones we won’t be far away.

“We’ve had some great leaders in the team down the years, McGeeney, McGrane and Marsden.

“Now it’s up to us to take up the baton and move on,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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