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O'Rourke eyes new dawn for Orchard

BY Saturday night, we should have a much clearer picture of Armagh, and in more ways than one.

The official opening of the Athletic Grounds, which sees Dublin visit the sparkling new stadium, will be screened in high-definition on Setanta, while Paddy O'Rourke's side will be able to show their true worth after the pre-season malaise that weighed heavily on their McKenna Cup campaign.

They couldn't build on an early win over All-Ireland finalists Down and were beaten at their new home by Antrim and, more alarmingly, St Mary's, who are long shots for the Sigerson Cup at 33/1. There was a certain amount of experimentation in those matches.

The Crossmaglen contingent will remain absent so long as they are in the club championship and the luckless Ronan Clarke is slowly edging towards match fitness.

Armagh should be able to welcome Ciaran McKeever back from injury for his seasonal reappearance against a Dublin side that had ideal preparation with their extra-time O'Byrne Shield final win over Meath.

"Ronan Clarke is probably the only one that won't be available," O'Rourke said. "I have never had Ronan Clarke (since becoming Armagh manager) and getting him would be like getting a new player. And we think we will get him. If that's halfway through the National League that's okay -- we are not going to start rushing things now."

Armagh need little reminding that it was Dublin that ended their summer in 2010, but the Orchard men headed back north with the feeling they had handed Pat Gilroy's side the tools to dismantle them with.

"We sat down, met and talked about it," O'Rourke said. "I've looked at it a good bit to see what went wrong. I still feel only small things went wrong and if Brian Mallon's ball had gone to the back of the net I think we would have gone on and won the game.

"There's nothing to say we wouldn't have gone on and won a few games after that and got a bit stronger."

O'Rourke watched his native Down fall narrowly to Cork in the All-Ireland final and he saw enough that day to convince him that the landscape of this year's All-Ireland is much harder to call.

"I think seven or eight teams can win the All-Ireland and I don't think that has been the case this last few years. There were always a couple of hot favourites," he said.

"This time last year Cork looked to be very hot favourites but probably struggled over the line a wee bit and there is nothing to say they are going to repeat it."

Irish Independent