THE Ulster Championship was eventful to say the least for Armagh, and their manager Peter McDonnell says they’re still dealing with the legacy of a mass brawl which soured an otherwise enthralling semi-final victory over Tyrone.
10 players were suspended in the lead-up to their Ulster final against Derry, and although the majority of those suspensions were lifted on the Saturday evening before the game, the impact of the debacle is still being felt.
McDonnell said: “It’s about football at the end of the day. When you invest so much time whether you’re a manager or a player or coach, setbacks like what happened to us last year do cut deep, but that’s in the past.
“We have to deal with the legacy of that as Ross McQuillan still has to serve his suspension. The rules are there, I just find it difficult to understand in my mind the equality of it when some players are only banned for a certain time-period.
“The ironic thing is if Derry beat us, we’re out and Ross doesn’t have to serve a second-match ban anywhere. It’s about playing football at the end of the day, to provide a springboard for young lads to play at senior level, and now it’s u-20 they’re deprived of an extra year of playing football for their county.”
The Orchard County fared well in the circumstances against Derry in last year’s Ulster final, losing by 2-15 to 0-14 in what was still a spirited performance by any standard.
Of that team, Rian O’Neill is already an automatic starter on the Armagh senior team, and McDonnell says he wouldn’t be surprised if a few other youngsters follow in his footsteps.
“Rian who played in last year’s Ulster final, Jarly Og Burns was with the Armagh u-21s two years ago, and Ciaran Higgins is yet to be revealed on the Ulster stage but by god, everybody better sit and take note. I’d expect Barry McCambridge and Callum O’Neill to make that step up.”
McDonnell is also encouraged by the depth of talent in Armagh across all reaches of the county, but wouldn’t you know it, there’s another potential Crossmaglen superstar coming through the ranks.
“We’ve players close to the border with Antrim who all played with St Ronan’s, Lurgan. We’ve move players this year from mid-Armagh, from clubs like Granemore and Keady, I’m very pleased about that.
“Some of them from St Pat’s and some are from Keady High School, and there’s a good sprinkling of players from clubs in south Armagh who haven’t been as strong in recent years. Some great lads from Carrickcruppen but unfortunately two are injured, Killeavy are doing wonderful work at underage level, and we always get a McConville out of Crossmaglen at some stage or another and we have Jim McConville’s lad, Cian.”
The Orchard County are up against it this weekend, and McDonnell holds a firm belief that Derry are one of the favourites not only for the Ulster Championship, but for national honours.
“The draw is what it is. Derry will have aspirations beyond the first round of the championship. They’ll have real and justifiable ambitions to win an All-Ireland. Given how Kerry, the team who beat Derry in the All-Ireland minor final two years ago, have progressed, there’ll be no David Clifford which will all add expectation within the Derry camp. Life is strange, however, it always throws up the unexpected.”