Maintaining consistency is always difficult when drawing from a minute pool of players, with success often followed by periods of distressing downturn due to the unavailability of even a handful of key operators.
In such instances, keeping the show on the road is the priority.
That’s how it has been for Armagh since getting to the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Premier Junior Championship Final and garnering Division 3 National League honours in 2016.
There have been some difficult times since but optimism has been renewed with the development of some younger talents, as well as the return of previously absent stars.
Ciara Donnelly scored one of the best goals ever seen in Croke Park in the loss to Carlow four years ago and was the primary attacking threat but has been working in Abu Dhabi for the duration of the last two season.
She is back in the fold now with Micheál Murphy’s charges and joint-captain Orlagh Murray is understandably very happy.
Interestingly, Murray – who shares the job as skipper with Rachael Merry – notes that others have benefited from more fluid work situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic to be available.
Talk about the ill wind coming up trumps.
“We actually have a few new girls who missed it the past few years, didn’t have the time because of work commitments and are on board this year”, observes Murray.
“Workplaces are actually a bit more flexible because of COVID and because so many people are working from home, it gives more girls a chance to play county.
“Ciara’s a big, big player for us and we’re delighted to see her back.”
Ironically, Murray herself was out of the country in 2016, having spent four years in Australia, where she was sponsored to work.
It was tough to watch that, having broken through as a teenager. Now 28, the Keady star has been a leader throughout the past three seasons.
And while she did not experience the bitter pill of All-Ireland Final defeat personally, it remains a major motivator ahead of Saturday’s joust with Roscommon at the Athletic Grounds.
“It was absolutely devastating for the girls but they know what’s possible because of it”, Murray reasons.
“This year we’ve a very strong team of players coming up through the underage and those few girls are back as well, hopefully we’ll have the panel to do it.”
While the Club Championship wasn’t one to remember, with Keady bowing out in the first round, Murray enjoyed spending so much time with her clubmates.
The marketing executive at Armagh Council is now relishing a return to intercounty fare, something that felt was very far away at times in 2020.
It is hard to know where they are in terms of readiness though, having had just one competitive outing this year, way back on February 23rd.
“When we went into lockdown in March, we didn’t know if there would be a season. We didn’t know if there’d be a club season so it was great to have that and finish it successfully. Everyone is ready to go now for the county.
“It was very good that your focus was club for so long and it’s now changed to county. In the past couple of years girls have struggled with that, half and half, the pull from one training to the next, whereas this year it was focus on the club first and then we’ll talk about the county. It would be great if that could continue.
“But that’s for the future. Now is all about Armagh and Roscommon. It will be a tough one. Roscommon are very strong. It’s a home venue for us and hopefully that will be to our advantage.
“We’ve only had one game this year and that was in the League against Down and at that time, we didn’t even have our full panel out. So, we’re still just trying to train together to see what we can do and looking at the players together.
“We’re trying to make sure we’re fit enough first and foremost and we can’t wait to be playing now. We didn’t think we would be so we’re very much looking forward to it.”
For details of how to watch a Live Stream of some of this weekend’s key Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Championship fixtures click HERE