Tuesday, 16 January 2018

TRIO BLOW FOR ORCHARD thumbnail ETHAN Rafferty limps off during the first half of Armagh’s win over Derry on Sunday and looks a major doubt for the National League opener.

ARMAGH manager Kieran McGeeney looks set to begin the National League campaign without key players Brendan Donaghy, Ben Crealy and Ethan Rafferty.

Those players limped off during Armagh's win over Derry on Sunday, which qualified the Orchard men to a Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal on Wednesday, at Ballybofey.

It was a gutsy performance in the Athletic Grounds, with several players impressing but Sunday's win has come at a cost as Armagh begin their Division Three National League campaign against Sligo on Sunday, January 28, and need to hit the ground running.

Donaghy, Crealy and Rafferty look like they'll miss the tie against the Yeats men, while Aidan Forker, Andrew Murnin and captain Rory Grugan are a major doubt for tomorrow's Dr McKenna Cup semi-final clash against Donegal.

"We already have probably lost three players for the Sligo game," said McGeeney.

"And the three players that we brought off were all injured as well, so there is six gone immediately.

"We would have taken another two off if we could so there will be a lot of changes on it.

"At this stage we want to play well and we have players we want to see and we would like to go out and win it but Sligo coming up in two weeks and to lose three players of that calibre isn't good."

McGeeney hasn't ruled out any of his players being fit but feels they face a difficult race against time for the Sligo game.

"They will need to be lucky, very lucky," said McGeeney.

"Dead leg above the knee, dead leg, and Brendan's [Donaghy] hamstring, Aidan [Forker] and Rory [Grugan] have cramp. We will have definitely three and possibly more out." More encouraging news for Geezer is that few players are closer to coming off the treatment table and play some part over the coming weeks.

"There will be other ones, we have Gavin [McParland] coming back in, Niall Grimley, Eugene McVerry and we had Miceal McKenna back and Oisin Mac Imohair has been playing well too, so hopefully we have cover," said McGeeney.

Another concern is the cold snap expected this week, which could put Wednesday's semi-final clash against Donegal in doubt. Given one round was already delayed due to frozen pitches and with the National League beginning a week earlier, there isn't much of a window to re-fix the game, should it be necessary.

"It is definitely something we will be keeping an eye on because the one gap that there is in the League, most players would have that booked, especially the weekend that's in it," said McGeeney.

"So they have to be conscious of that, as it will be difficult to find a time to fit it in."

Also in Group B of the Dr McKenna Cup, Down won their first game of the season, against Ulster University, with Mayobridge's Keith Quinn making his return for the first time in three years, which is a great boost for Mourne manager Eamonn Burns ahead of the Division Two National League clash against Louth.


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