Armagh U21 boss Peter McDonnell unhappy about competition clashes
ARMAGH manager Peter McDonnell has hit out at the scheduling of competitions which has led to a series of clashes with his side's preparations for the Ulster U21 Football Championship.
Sigerson Cup, All-Ireland Freshers, MacRory Cup and the Ulster Club U21 Championship have all thrown a spanner in the Orchard works, with players from McDonnell's squad involved in the finals of all four competitions.
"I can't, for the life of me, fathom how an organisation can condone and sanction tournaments that take away from the U21 competition," he said.
"In my own club, Mullaghbawn, the U21 grade was the most significant grade of under-age football in terms of what came at senior level.
"I would contend that it's also the most significant grade of football in terms of what comes on at senior level for inter-county teams.
"Yet, we have players involved in the final of the All-Ireland Freshers, less than a fortnight before our first round championship match.
"Then there's the tournament that was run for the U21 clubs, we have only had the Crossmaglen players released since the final of that."
Armagh face neighbours Down in tomorrow evening's U21 Championship quarter-final tie at the Athletic Grounds, and the involvement of St Colman's, Newry in the MacRory Cup final two days later means the county team will be without a handful of players, including the exciting Rian O'Neill.
"For me, last Monday's training session in Armagh is the first time that we had the Crossmaglen players, our county senior players, and missing from that group are three schools that contested the semi-finals of the MacRory Cup this year, St Ronan's Lurgan, St Colman's Newry and St Paul's Bessbrook.
"They all have players who were over-age for minor, but yet couldn't participate in this championship.
"The MacRory Cup final is on the 17th of March, two days after we play in the first round, so we do not have Rian O'Neill because of that. We do not have four other players who are on that St Colman's team who are part of our panel.''
Eoin McDonnell, Ryan Garvey, Conor O'Neill will also miss out on tomorrow's meeting with Down.
Nevertheless, Armagh have a strong squad, which includes senior players Aidan Rushe, Oisin O'Neill, Ben Creally and Ciaran Higgins, although the latter has been ruled out after suffering a broken leg in the NFL meeting with Sligo.
Armagh coasted to a massive 20 points win over Down in last year's opener, and McDonnell expects the Mourne side to be driven by the hurt they suffered at Pairc Esler on that occasion.
"Motivation is based on past hurts, and Down will have a loaded itinerary of stuff to come out with.
"Last year Down under-performed, and we would recognise that, and would recognise also that we were fortuitous in that we got goals, that wasn't characteristic of our play all year, at the right times.
"Down have a different set of players, we have a lot of new players, so we're starting from scratch again.
"The Athletic Grounds hasn't been a good hunting ground for us at U21 level, so certainly we'll be taking nothing for granted.
"This is traditional knock-out football, and we're expecting a very difficult and tough challenge against Down".