Pain of International Rules failure driving McDonnell
Steven McDonnell has an extra-special reason for hoping to bow out of the International Rules series on a high.
McDonnell, a fixture in the Armagh side for over a decade and an All Ireland medal winner in 2002, captained Ireland when they conceded last year’s series to Australia on score aggregate and is now anxious to see the Cormac McAnallen trophy reclaimed.
McDonnell is expected to be a key cog in manager Anthony Tohill’s attacking machinery for the first Test in Melbourne on Friday week when the Irish hope to achieve a victory which would send them into the second Test at Queensland on November 4 well-placed to clinch the series.
But McDonnell, whose pace, power and shooting skills can prove central to Ireland’s hopes, is aware that the Aussies’ traditional running game which is based on power and the ability to turn over possession could prove difficult to counter.
And the Killeavy man, still fiercely committed to the Rules code, believes that Ireland should absorb lessons from their experiences of last year.
“We have to hit the ground running in the first Test if we are to have any chance of winning the series. The Australians are great athletes no matter what their level of experience in the Rules game, they can be very hard to contain,” says McDonnell.
The Killeavy clubman is facing into what could be his last season in the Armagh jersey but Ireland manager Anthony Tohill has great faith in the Orchard county marksman.
“He is one of a number of players who can help give a lead in Australia. The more experienced players have certainly been showing up very well in training,” says Tohill.
McDonnell captained Armagh this year but it’s his county colleague Ciaran McKeever who has been named Ireland’s vice-captain with Stephen Cluxton confirmed as captain.
There is still considerable doubt that Cluxton will take part in the series as his club Parnells are still in the Dublin championship which was deferred because of the county’s participation in the All-Ireland final.
Parnells are due to play Ballymun Kickhams next weekend and should they win then Cluxton could be placed on the horns of a dilemma.
The Dublin All-Ireland winning hero is known to be keen to lead Ireland in the Rules series but is also strongly committed to his club.
Meanwhile, Cathal Corey has emerged as one of the favourites to succeed John O'Neill as Fermanagh football manager.
The Tyrone man guided Naomh Conaill (Glenties) to the Donegal senior football championship title last year and also to an Ulster club final appearance against Crossmaglen.
Darren Chapman could also be in the frame for the Erne post following Cavan Gaels' exit from the Ulster Club series at the hands of Glenswilly.