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Kieran Donaghy in, Jamie Clarke out, and being seen as 'someone who's old, grey and maybe full of sh*t'

Kieran McGeeney is gearing up for another season at the Armagh helm.

launch-of-the-2021-allianz-football-league Kieran McGeeney (Armagh) at the Allianz Football League 2021 launch. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

KERRY GREAT KIERAN Donaghy “brings a different perspective” to Armagh and has “all the attributes to be a great coach,” manager Kieran McGeeney says.

The four-time All-Ireland winner has linked up with the Orchard county for the 2021 season, his appointment announced back in December.

McGeeney has since assembled a solid coaching unit, with Donaghy certainly the high-profile winter arrival. He is one of “the four Ciarans” on the coaching ticket, Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winning captain grins — “It’s good craic when they’re giving out to us!” — the others being himself and another pair of county stalwarts in Ciaran McKeever and Ciaran McKinney.

“It’s a different slant,” McGeeney notes, before explaining the reason behind his recruitment of former Kingdom forward Donaghy.

“The reason I went after Kieran was Kieran made a career out of bringing other people into the game and I just think that’s something we were still missing in Armagh.

“It’s sometimes hard to explain to people. Sometimes, I think you can have too many good forwards. You need people to make them tick, a bit like [Ciarán] Kilkenny does for Dublin, like Kieran would have done for Kerry, things like that.

“I just thought Kieran would have that type of background in his basketball too.”

He continued, drawing comparisons: “Ciaran McKeever would be quite similar, obviously being captain of Armagh, centre back. That’s a big quality he has, bringing other people into the game.

“Obviously Ciaran McKinney, being a goalkeeper, last man back, his whole job is to make everybody else look good.

“We are trying to bring a different perspective to the squad in terms of bringing each other into the game, and not just always thinking of just the next ball, trying to think about how to play as a team. The three Ciarans will definitely bring that to it now.”

Delving deeper into Donaghy’s addition in particular, McGeeney explained exactly what he brings to the set-up.

“Kieran is a very gregarious type of character. He is good fun. They find it hard to stop laughing at me all the time. It’s good to have somebody else in with a sense of humour.

“He brings that sort of an edge to it. At my wedding, my Dad was slagging all the Kerry ones, saying now that we have a Kerry woman in the family, we can have all the skill of the Armagh ones and all the dirt of the Kerry ones.

“It should be a good balance. I’d be slagging Kieran about that. Nah, be brings a different perspective to it, with basketball too. I also think the fact that although playing underage with Kerry, that he got in through the Underdogs system, he has a great humility about him as well.

kieran-donaghy-before-the-game Kieran Donaghy. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He has loads of All-Irelands in the back pockets, All Stars and things like that, International Rules. He has got everything but there is a great humility about him too, and a great humour about the way he does things. I think that adds to any set up.

“The three Ciarans all have their own character, but Kieran’s pathway has definitely given him all the attributes to be a great coach.”

The Austin Stacks clubman is now tasked with bringing the best out of a star-studded forward line, one that McGeeney confirmed will be without Jamie Clarke.

In recent media interviews, Oisín McConville shared his fears that his Crossmaglen Rangers clubmate’s inter-county career with Armagh could be over.

Clarke turns 32 in June, and has previously taken a series of breaks from the set-up to travel and pursue his ambition of working in the fashion industry.

“Jamie’s in Paris at the minute, someone was telling me so unless we’re starting an international team, he’s not going to be in it for this year,” McGeeney said of Clarke, who played in the heavy 2020 Ulster semi-final loss to Donegal.

The natural next question: with the fact that he’s been in and out of the panel the past few years, does it show that football doesn’t have to be the be all and end all for some players?

“I think the opposite,” McGeeney responds almost immediately. “I think we’re all caught in a timewarp so we are. We tend to focus in on the four or five players a year [who don’t commit] of the 3,000 who are involved with inter-county. I think it’s a very small percentage. Everyone has a personal choice.

“Jamie is an exceptionally good fella, I have a lot of time for him personally and he’s always straight up when he goes. Some people just have different passions.

“I don’t really think it’s got to do with the football or the commitment. They just tend to give commitment to other things, I suppose it depends where your cards are aligning on your particular journey.”

“I think the opposite, I think football nowadays is far more enjoyable and I think it’s a great time to be involved,” he added, explaining how lengthy and numerous pre-seasons and colossal amounts of running he endured at the beginning of his career have since been replaced with more emphasis on ball work and game scenarios.

“I think it’s moved on exponentially, in terms of what they’re doing for their players, and even just to be able to access the different things that you can as a footballer.

“It’s not for everybody, especially when you’re not getting first-team hurling or football, it’s easy to get disgruntled because in everything like that, people are going to have different opinions. Mine might not be right and a manager might pick different players but I think in general, players are enjoying football and hurling.”

jamie-clarke Jamie Clarke. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With a departure comes opportunity though, and Ross McQuillan will undoubtedly be looking to cement a spot in the Orchard forward line, having recently called time on his AFL career.

The 21-year-old spent just one year Down Under with Essendon, and now there’s much excitement surrounding the talented athlete’s return to these shores.

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“It’s great to see Ross back in,” McGeeney nods. “He was away and seemed to enjoy his time over there. But, home was calling to him and it’s great to have him back on the panel.

“Ross was always in good physical nick. I’d say he’d even say himself there wouldn’t be much different between the Aussie Rules boys and our fellas in terms of it’s a wee bit different of a game.

“The role he was playing was similar to a wing back, wing forward, so it would have been a similar type of training. Ross is like his Dad [former Armagh player Martin], athleticism comes easy to him.”

Front and centre of McGeeney’s mind right now is the Division 1 North Allianz Football League campaign, for which his promoted side find themselves in a “zestuous” group with Monaghan, Tyrone and Armagh.

“They’ll probably see us as the whipping boys coming up,” he concedes, with the Farney first up this weekend. “We’re hoping to give a good account of ourselves.”

To the back, perhaps, is the fact that it’s 20 years since that All-Ireland win next year?

Not necessarily.

“You just get caught up in what you’re doing now,” he concludes. “Twenty years ago… I’ve fellas I’m working with now that weren’t even born. It’s funny, you know they’re looking at you going, ‘Who the fuck is he?’ You know you’re definitely getting old!

“Talking about the likes of Ross [McQuillan] and [Aidan] Forkers, all of them, I played with their Dads. Even saying that sentence, ‘I played with your Dad’ just makes you feel old.

“When you’re looking out through your own eyes, you still see the world the same way as you did 25 years ago. But the ones who are looking back at you just see someone who’s old and grey and maybe full of shit.

“So you have to be wary of that particular thing. I might see the world in the same way, they’re not looking back at me in the same way as I’m looking at them.”

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Kieran McGeeney (Armagh) was in attendance at the Allianz Football League 2021 launch, as inter-county football makes its long awaited return on 15 May. 

This year marks the 29th year of Allianz’ partnership with the GAA as sponsor of the Allianz Leagues, making it one of the longest-running sponsorships in Irish sport.  

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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