Tuesday 21 November 2017

True fans will attend Ulster clash -- McKeever

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Only a 'true' GAA supporter will be at Armagh's newly christened Morgan Athletic Grounds tomorrow night for an Ulster SFC quarter-final for which the throw-in time has sharply divided opinion.

Armagh defender Ciaran McKeever waded into the debate about the timing of the game with that assessment yesterday, offering no flexibility for the hard-pressed Armagh or Down supporter who has choices to make between a comfortable night on the couch or a trip to the city to watch two of the province's great rivals in action.

The start time remains at 7.30, forcing a direct clash with the Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona.

Officials have argued that poor ticket sales is as much as a consequence of the King of Leon concert at Slane as the Champions League final at Wembley.

McKeever, however, sees genuine support of a county team as something that involves sacrifice.

"It doesn't bother us either way. If you're a true GAA fan you'll be at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday evening. That's the bottom line," he said.

Last week, Down attacker Danny Hughes made his feelings clear on the issue with heavy criticism of the Ulster Council for not instigating a change of time themselves. Thus, a championship match that could ordinarily attract 15,000 to 20,000 might only reach half that figure.

McKeever, now 28, remains one of the lynchpins of Armagh's defence and is the most likely man to get the job of picking up Marty Clarke, Down's playmaker supreme.

The art of sound defence has become almost an obsession in recent years and McKeever, for one, is making no apologies for the way the game has evolved.

"People have been giving out about the standard of play and packed defences, but at the end of the day it's results that count," he said. "Neither ourselves nor Down will worry about what sort of game it has been come 9.0 on Saturday evening if we've won it.


"I know people are entitled to their opinion because they've paid to watch the matches, but that's just the way football has gone -- teams are packing their defences and the other team has to do the same.

"If you leave yourself wide open at the back then they'll take advantage of that. Some people say you defend from numbers two to six, but at the end of the day every player from No 15 back has to defend and our goalkeeper is our eyes.

"Our best tackler has to be No 15 and if it comes as far as us in the defence it's our job then to stop them from scoring."

McKeever has had a career change in recent times and has swapped the construction site for the gym as he switched from being a plasterer to a personal fitness trainer. It is a move that has helped bring his game to a new level, he feels.

"I'm a personal trainer now in my local club in Cullyhanna," he said. "I am enjoying it because it's a total change and it allows me to focus more on my football rather than be out (working) on the building sites all the time."

McKeever feels ongoing criticism of the Armagh attack -- Ronan Clarke has been ruled out of action for another season with ongoing injury problems -- has been overstated.

"It's not just been this year, for the past couple of years the Armagh forwards have been criticised," McKeever said. "People are saying we don't have a half-forward line and things like that.

"Those people outside of our camp don't understand the work that our forwards do for us. They have no right to be criticising them."

Irish Independent

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