Derry U20 boss Donnelly expecting tough challenge against Armagh for Ulster title
Eirgrid Ulster Under 20 Football Championship final: Armagh v Derry
The Ulster Under 20 Football Championship may well be in its infancy, but it has already garnered more than its fair share of interest and infamy, between post-match melees, herculean come-back wins, goals, penalties, red cards and no shortage of open, attractive score-heavy contests.
And with a further carrot of Connacht champions Mayo awaiting the winners in an All Ireland semi-final, Derry manager Mickey Donnelly is keenly anticipating a return to the venue of Derry's epic semi-final victory over Down.
“Where else do you want to be other than in Clones for a big final?” enthused Donnelly.
“It's very special, it's romantic, it's the stuff of dreams for cubs. But, sure, we're all looking forward to it.”
The Aghaloo clubman masterminded Tyrone success at Ulster minor level in 2012, and was part of the management team that won this year's McRory and Hogan Cup, still enjoys the buzz of the big occasion.
“It's not just you, it's your family,” he said. “People you meet at work, people you meet at school, people you meet in the street.
“There's always something about the Ulster final, whether you are involved in it or not. I know there's great excitement around my own house.”
The inaugural Danny Murphy trophy is the glittering prize on offer for the winner's of tomorrow's Ulster Under 20 football final between Armagh and Derry.
The new trophy commemorates the late Danny Murphy, who passed away aged just 67 in December 2016, while holding the Office of Secretary/Chief Executive of Ulster GAA.
In contrast with their opponents, Derry arrive in Clones in good shape. Eoghan Bradley's broken metatarsal and Ryan McGillion's torn cruciate, respectively, preclude them from participation at St Tiernach's Park, while the talismanic Callum Brown continues to struggle with a niggling knee problem which has plagued him all campaign.
Better news is the return of Slaughtneil's Brian Cassidy after the culmination of Derry's Christy Ring commitments.
Armagh's team selection, as has been well documented on an almost daily basis, is more nebulous.
Peter McDonnell's team beat Tyrone after two periods of extra time to reach the Ulster Under-20 final in dramatic fashion on a 2-22 to 0-24 score at the Athletic Grounds.
That victory followed on from their highly impressive 2-14 to 0-10 success over Fermanagh in the previous round. Goals from Rian O'Neill and Conor Turbit helped Armagh to a comfortable win.
But as it stands now, the Orchard County are waiting on the outcome of 11th hour deliberations.
The Orchard County are currently appealing the suspensions of nine further squad players after the unsavoury events which followed their epic win over Tyrone. What is clear, Eoghan McDonnell and Ryan Owens both miss the final having been sent off in the semi-final.
The Derry manager, who teaches in Armagh at MacRory and Hogan Cup champions St Ronan's, Lurgan, admits that the favourite's tag could be a dangerous won for the Oakleafers.
“I thought we struggled with being favourites against Down. Listen, I teach in Armagh and I know the quality of personnel they have.
“If Armagh are at full strength it's very much a toss of a coin as to who would be favourites.
“If Armagh are not at full strength and the bookies deem us to be favourites, I certainly know that Armagh have excellent players.”
After a year to forget for Derry seniors, Donnelly concluded that better days must definitely lie ahead in the county: “I know things are tough for Derry fans at the minute, but I do think things are going to change. Damian (McErlain) has brought three good minor teams through and the player pool is increasing all the time.
“If we get quality work done with that group of players hopefully they will come through to play senior football.”