National Football League Division Two
Armagh v Cavan
Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 7pm
ARMAGH coach Jim McCorry believes that the high rate of player retention over the winter is testament to the belief that the Orchard county are moving in the right direction.
The GAA news cycle over the last few months has been dominated by opt-outs across the country, but it’s something that Armagh have more or less avoided as they prepare for Saturday night’s league opener against Cavan at the Athletic Grounds.
Charlie Vernon has retired while work commitments will keep Ben Crealey away this season. A few other fringe players have drifted away but it’s essentially the same squad as last year.
That, for McCorry, has been a huge positive as they prepare to welcome the Breffni county to the Cathedral city. Promotion to Division One is a key goal for Kieran McGeeney’s squad this season, so it’s a big fixture for them.
“Ben Crealey was in England for employment reasons and couldn’t get back over,” said McCorry. “We would have facilitated that if we could but Ben is going to be out for a year.
“Charlie, I mean everyone has praised him for what he has given to Armagh and just with his age and his young family it was an entirely understandable decision.
“We have managed to hold onto the majority of our players apart from that. There will be some fringe players who will come and go but the core of what we want is still there and pushing hard for places.
“During the McKenna Cup we had a lot of injuries and boys came in. A lot of them will hold their places and the other boys will have to come back and prove a point. That’s great from our point of view.”
There is hefty optimism around this Armagh team within the county, especially regarding their scintillating attack, but they are unlikely to be at full strength from the off.
Jamie Clarke and Andy Murnin featured in a recent challenge match with Carlow but neither are likely to start here. Jemar Hall is another injury doubt while at the back Aaron McKay returns from the suspension that kept him out of both McKenna Cup ties.
Cavan will most definitely not be at full strength with a number of key players opting out since the end of last season.
Cian Mackey announced his retirement two weeks ago while Killian Clarke has quit the panel. Conor Moynagh and Dara McVeety are away travelling and any involvement will not be until later in the summer.
Other players not involved who played in last year’s championship include Conor Rehill, Caoimhin O’Reilly and Jack Brady.
The Breffni county have mostly held the upper hand over Armagh in recent times and defeated them in an Ulster semi-final replay last June. With that in mind, McCorry isn’t taking anything for granted against Mickey Graham’s charges.
“It’s been well publicised about the boys who have gone from Cavan,” said McCorry.
“Those are all quality players that they have lost but equally we have lots of quality players unavailable through injury, it’s not as if we’ll be putting out our championship team or they will be putting out theirs.
“There is more of a vested interest in the league this year with the new championship structure. It’s the first match, guys are going to be trying to impress and Cavan have always proven to be very difficult. They are maybe smarting a bit from the McKenna Cup too and will want to come into our backyard and hit us hard.
“It’s time for the excuses to go with Armagh though. We have to stop letting leads slip when we’ve started games well. The preparation has been first class for this match.”
So then, conflicting emotions – as far as the supporters are concerned anyway – for the two teams this weekend.
For Armagh it’s optimism and hope, for Cavan it’s the fear that they could wilt away as their core disappears. One game can often change emotions though – there’s a lot on the line already.