It is all or nothing against Derry, insists Armagh U20 boss Peter McDonnell
Armagh face a tough start to this year’s Eirgrid Ulster U20 Championship, as they face reigning champions Derry in the quarter-final in Owenbeg on Friday night.
Friday night’s 8pm throw-in between the Orchard County and the Oak Leafers is a repeat of last year’s inaugural U20 Ulster final, which Derry won by seven points.
However, Armagh U20 manager Peter McDonnell is disappointed that his young side have to travel all the way to Owenbeg for the match.
“There is a huge gulf between lining out prior to the Ulster final as Antrim and Down did last week,” said Peter McDonnell.
“We are sidelined to a Friday night match in Owenbeg which puts all sorts of pressures and strains on young players who are relying on jobs or one thing or another.
“We requested the game be played on a Saturday or Sunday, but the powers that be didn’t permit that, which is very disappointing.
“To make us have to trek all the way down there on a Friday night - I think it is a bit much to ask.”
Very few of the panel who tasted defeat to Derry in last year’s final will feature in Friday’s game against the Oak Leafers.
Much of last year’s U20 panel have moved on, but one very notable participant of last year’s final, Ross McQuillan, will miss the match.
McQuillan is serving a suspension as a result of the Tyrone game last year, where an on-field melee seen ten Armagh players face suspensions.
McDonnell says that lessons have been learned from last year’s campaign, despite it being “practically a new team”.
“The first lesson from last year,” McDonnell wryly remarks, “would be not to retaliate to provocation. That would be a very important lesson."
McDonnell continued: “It was a big ask for us last year, and the Derry team has been a force at minor level, it was a force last year, and quite a number of them are still available for selection this year.
“The task facing us is an enormous one. Our aim is to be competitive and to demonstrate that we have players that have the potential to go on and make an impact like Rian O’Neill and Jarly Óg Burns.”
Rian O’Neill scored four points in last year’s U20 Ulster final and has since established himself as a major force in the Armagh senior attack.
The Armagh U20 boss hopes that more players can follow in O’Neill’s and Burn’s footsteps.
“Rian was an instrumental player for us last year. So too was Jarly Óg the year before that, albeit not to quite the same level that he is playing at now.
“Certainly I would like to see more of our under 20s go on to senior level but it is great to see them boys there as an example to all the rest.”
There are a few injury concerns ahead of Friday night’s quarter-final, but McDonnell is content with his side despite the absences.
“There are a few injury concerns; we have lost a number of players to what I would call silly injuries. We have lost James Bennett with a hamstring, we have lost Aaron Kimble as well, he hurt his neck.
“Our full back who was with us all year Conor Tierney, son of Benny Tierney, broke his finger. Niall Courtney hurt himself also.
“But putting all that aside, we have a fit panel of 25 players heading to Derry on a Friday night, which is an unfortunate time for our game, but it is what it is.”
The victors of Friday night’s clash will be pitted against either Fermanagh or Donegal, but McDonnell refuses to look even an inch beyond Friday night.
“When we were drawn against Derry, there is no life after that; it is all or nothing against Derry.
“So Fermanagh and Donegal can play to their hearts content, I don’t care one bit what they’re at. I’m more concerned about what is in front of us.”