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Rory Grugan is happy to be unsung hero in Armagh's Ulster bid

By John Campbell

For most teams, the lengthy break between the end of the Allianz League and the start of the Ulster Championship can prove a fraught period.

It's during this spell that team managers keep their fingers crossed that players will avoid injury either in club games or training while at the same time striving to keep a 30-plus squad chomping at the bit for starting places in their line-up.

Armagh's Rory Grugan has particular reason to lament the gap between his team's last league game against Derry and Sunday's provincial Championship quarter-final against Cavan at Kingspan Breffni Park.

The 25-year-old languages teacher has not only had to come to terms with the tragic death of his father but has also been bidding to reach peak fitness again following recurring hamstring problems.

Grugan's much more pronounced influence within the Armagh side means that he will now be handed a key role against Terry Hyland's side and the Ballymacnab Round Towers clubman is counting down the hours until he takes the field against the Breffni side.

"I initially pulled my hamstring at the end of January and missed the first two league games against Laois and Meath but I managed to get back on track again and I was happy with my form in the last three games of the league and then I had a bit of bother again with my hamstring," explained Grugan.

"So it was a bit stop-start for a while but of late I have had a decent run so I just can't wait to get out there on Sunday.

"It's an awful long gap between the end of the league and the start of the Championship for us. It's very hard for teams to put in maybe eight or nine weeks between the league and Championship. It's a question in that period of getting your own head right and then getting sorted as a team in that time.

"Probably the one benefit, though, is that it gives you time to focus on your opponents and the strategy that your own team is going to adopt in their first Championship match."

With half-forwards now viewed as particularly important in terms of linking defence and attack - Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney cites Dublin's Paul Flynn and Kerry's Donnacha Walsh as two of the best in the business - Grugan will be asked to cover a lot of ground on Sunday but that's a challenge he is clearly relishing.

"The way in which most teams play now with getting numbers back behind the ball and then breaking out at pace clearly makes the half-forwards very important," stated Grugan.

"Maybe it's largely an unsung role but that does not bother me. I just want to get in there and be involved in the action. There is a serious work-rate expected from me and I am fully aware of that and I'm ready for the challenge.

"Let's be honest, it's far from being a glamorous role but it's work that has to be done in the interests of the team and that's all that matters. You have got to get back in defence and then you find yourself up helping the attack but that all goes with the territory.

"You have to put your own ego aside whether that would be a preferred position or not and just get on with the job in hand. If that's the role you're given you have to show that you are capable of fulfilling it."

Grugan inherited his ardent love of the Ballymacnab Round Towers club and Armagh from his father John, who died in a tragic accident in France at the end of February just 24 hours before his son was due to line out against Fermanagh in the league at the Athletic Grounds.

He was a former player and coach with the club and had served as a committee member and chairman.

Rory's brother Jack is also a talented player while his sisters Aoife and Shauna and mum Aileen are closely associated with the club.

On Sunday, this most modest and unassuming of players earnestly hopes to do Armagh and their huge army of followers proud in what will be their biggest match of the year so far - just as his late father would have wished, indeed.

Belfast Telegraph

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