Armagh minor boss praises his side’s attitude

By Niall Gartland

CAN Armagh get the better of Derry for the second year in-a-row in the Ulster Minor Championship? That’s the task facing their manager Brendan Hughes, but he’s well-aware that the Oakleafers are back-boned by players who already have medals in their back-pockets.

Coincidentally, this is actually the fourth year running these two teams have met in the first round, but that’s of little relevance at this stage and Derry reached and narrowly lost the Ulster Minor League final so they’ll take some beating this weekend.

However, Hughes, who is in his second year as manager, has been living in Derry City for many years, and having that inside track on the Derry lads can only be a good thing.

“I’m very aware of the strength of Derry football but at club and schools’ level. St Pat’s, Maghera won the Rannafast Cup, and St Mary’s won the MacRory. There’s players from both teams involved in their minor set-up so we know it’ll be a very difficult task.”

Armagh will be hoping to feed off the progress made by their senior footballers in the new season, and they have another talented O’Neill in their ranks – vice-captain Callum, younger brother of Rian and Oisin and a really promising prospect in his own right.

Hughes says the Orchard Academy is doing a sterling job, but he isn’t convinced that a move away at national level from the u-18 and u-21 age groups has been much of a success.

“The Orchard Academy has made substantial progress since its relaunch and rebranding a few years ago, they’re putting tremendous structures in place for the coaches involved. Aidan O’Rourke, Paul McGrane and Dennis Hollywood have done a brilliant job in that respect.

“I would still, however, have reservations about the u-17 and u-20 age groups. When I look at the top teams at senior level, I don’t see any u-20 players on those teams. When players wrap up at u-20, where do they go?

“We’d a player Aaron Haughey who we haven’t had access to as he was captaining St Colman’s to the Oisin McGrath final. Ulster Schools is basically running alongside the inter-county competitions and there’s very few players involved in the MacRory Cup, which is now finished, who are eligible to play for us.”

At the same time, he believes his young team will give it everything as they duke it out for a place in the last four.

“Derry have a number of players still involved who played against us last year.

“We have a dozen players who are still u-16 but our team will give a good account of ourselves, we have youthful exuberance and plenty of movement and athleticism. We’ll give it our best shot and see if that’s good enough.”

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