On Sunday, Armagh ended a progressive 2019 while beginning the 2020 season in brilliant fashion, seeing out a dominant seven point win over Cavan. The Orchard County were superb on the day and the performances of some of the newer faces within the squad will offer serious hope for the future.
While Armagh were undoubtedly impressive, they were missing a host of familiar names and assistant manager Jim McCorry was happy to try out so many newcomers, “I think there was maybe nine who got game time there today who maybe hadn’t got before with us, so that’s good from that point of view.”
“And still the quality of players we have out, Ethan Rafferty’s still out, you’ve Andrew Murnin who’s still out, you’ve Paddy Burns out, you’ve Paul Hughes out. So a lot of first team players that would have played the last few years are still out at the moment and that gives a good opportunity for these guys to prove themselves and also then put the pressure on those guys to get back in, that’s the important bit.”
It was their forward division that really caught the eye, with Rian O’Neill continuing to express his talent, earning the man of the match award, while Aidan Nugent likewise carried on his great form from last season. Newcomer Conor Turbitt top scored for his side as he struck the net in both halves, while also notching two points.
Armagh drove at the Cavan defence from the opening minute, when the struck their first wide of the game. Incredibly they hit the target with every other shot until the 42nd minute, registering 2-16 during this time. McCorry spoke highly of the inexperienced players and how they performed on their first showing in the orange and white,
“There was a fair wee breeze there in the first half that we had, and they had in the second half, and we used it better than they did but with or without a breeze, you’ve still got to put it over and the shooting was very, very good.”
“Especially when you consider we had three guys making their debuts today and we had three guys who were actually in the squad last year, who started as well, that hadn’t started last year and we have four new guys in the subs, just into the panel this year and two of them came on. So considering there were a lot of new players and really that’s the first 70 minutes we played, that’s very, very pleasing.”
While Cavan failed to make any real impression on the game after the first 20 minutes or so, McCorry still insists that competitive matches beat training sessions, and although his players have put in a lot of hard work during the off-season, it was good to see them back in competitive action once again.
“Obviously, a lot of good pre-season work done with the guys, and everybody worked very hard to get their fitness levels up but nothing beats, people say it’s only the McKenna Cup, but it’s still a full match at a competitive level and away in Breffni Park, to get a result at any stage is obviously good.”
Although still 2019, the 2020 season is well and truly underway and with the constant debate over fixtures and schedules, it’s easy to see why some disagree with games being played so soon after Christmas. McCorry feels that players deserve the down-time that comes with the Christmas period, but also that the McKenna Cup is important to give players game time.
“We gave the guys the Christmas week off, we gave them the New Year week off, but the McKenna Cup, I still think it’s an integral part of our programme and you’re looking for competitive games before the league kicks in.”
“It’s important that there are good competitive games before the league starts to try different players, and we tried an awful lot today, and to try maybe different things you’ve been doing on the training ground.”
Tyrone are next on Armagh’s hit list and a tougher game will await McCorry and his men, a task the former Down manager is looking forward to as Armagh prepare for their division two league campaign at the end of January.
“Cavan in their own backyard, I know they had a few players missing from their championship side, as we had as well, but Breffni Park is a hard enough place to come to, and to get a win in, but we expect Tyrone to be coming with their full hand.”
“If you want a good competitive games before the league starts I suppose there’s nothing better than a division one side like Tyrone coming to the Athletic Grounds. Tyrone and Armagh always fill the Athletic Grounds; it’ll be great for both sets of supporters so we look forward to that.”