'Real championship' starts now as Armagh Harps prepare for play-off: Charlie Vernon
Cormac Leonard Commercials Armagh SFC
FEW would have expected defending champions Armagh Harps to be facing a play-off to save their skins, but stalwart Charlie Vernon admits he can’t wait for the “real championship” to start.
Defeat to 2016 kingpins Maghery in their final Group C game last weekend left Harps in second place and facing a winner-takes-all clash with Granemore at the Athletic Grounds tomorrow evening.
With a quarter-final place at stake in the revamped Armagh championship, Vernon and his team-mates know no more slip-ups can be afforded – and he couldn’t be happier.
“It’s a strange feel, those round-robin games,” said the 31-year-old.
“It’s nearly like an extension of the league format. I tend to be a bit of a traditionalist and it doesn’t really feel like a championship match unless it’s a case of ‘you’re beat, you’re gone’.
“It’s new and it gives players more games, which is what you want. The fact we had won our first two games, whereas Maghery had won one and drawn, plus they were at home, the motivation factor was maybe slightly more in their favour.
“I’m sure they were rubbing their hands to get us down to the Loughshore to beat lumps out of us!
“But look, we wanted to win the game as well and we’re disappointed we didn’t. We’re still in the competition, it’s knockout from here on in, so we just have to get up and get on with it.
“It’s real championship, if you like.”
The Harps can count themselves slightly unfortunate to be in this position as they looked to be in the box seat when Vernon put the city side a point ahead towards the end of normal time.
However, Maghery hit back when veteran goalkeeper Johnny Montgomery levelled with a 45 before defender Brendan Haveron popped up with the winner.
“It was a tight game, both sides made mistakes in attack towards the end,” continued Vernon.
“We were probably kicking ourselves because we had opportunities to go and seal the game. Maghery would maybe feel the exact same.
“When you get two teams so evenly matched, it makes for a tight encounter. It was tight in the final last year and it was tight the other day as well.
“It was probably a good learning experience for some of our younger lads, so it’ll not do us a bit of harm I wouldn’t think.”
Considering Harps defeated Maghery in last year’s decider - ending their own 26-year year wait to get their hands on the Gerry Fagan Cup while denying the Sean McDermott’s two in-a-row – both are expected to have a big say in the destination of this year’s title.
Although, as Vernon acknowledged, the Armagh championship is now as open as it has been in many years.
“It was a massive result for us last year,” says Vernon.
“It was a long time coming after a lot of failed efforts at it. Last year was my fourth final, we’d had a lot of bad experiences. There’s probably a lot of clubs across the country who can tell similar stories.
“It was just brilliant for the whole club, as well as the self-confidence you get from going and lifting a cup.
“The next year then you’re on everybody’s hit-list, you’re there to be knocked down, but that’s not a bad place to be. The challenge for us is to try to get a wee bit better and keep progressing.
“Now you could probably say there’s five or six clubs in Armagh who would think they’re in with a shout, and with us winning it last year and Maghery the year before, it feels much more open than it had done for the past two decades.”