Simon Doherty focused on UU ahead of clash with native Armagh
Conor McGurk Cup: Queen’s University v Down (today, 1.30pm, The Dub); Ulster University v Armagh (today, 2pm, Jordanstown)
SIMON Doherty is expecting an “interesting” afternoon when he sends his Ulster University side out to face his native Armagh in Jordanstown today.
The St John’s, Belfast clubman has been Armagh’s number one for several years but finds himself in the unusual position of plotting his own county’s downfall when they face Padraig O’Connor’s Orchardmen in their Conor McGurk Cup opener.
Doherty was involved with the Ulster University hurlers three years ago, but this is the 25-year-old’s first stint as manager – and it is a challenge he is relishing, despite this early curve ball.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“It’s funny, me and Padraig were talking about it a few weeks ago, saying it’ll be some craic if we are drawn together, and would we play it in Armagh or play it at Jordanstown.
“It’ll be interesting alright. Obviously I’m coming from the perspective of wanting to do my best for Ulster University but I am an Armagh man.
“Armagh are looking forward to the competition too, we’re going to use it as a competition to really build for the National League and push to get promotion from Division 3A because we feel that’s a very realistic ambition to have.
“It’s a good opportunity for guys to really stake a claim for the jersey, for both Armagh and Ulster University. Our lads are buying into everything we’re doing, there are no egos within the group, they just work hard.
“There’s a really good balance in the team, it’s not as if there’s one county dominating, so there’s a real good mix with guys from all over.”
Doherty is able to call upon plenty of men with inter-county experience in a side captained by Ballygalget’s Mark Fisher.
Fisher’s fellow Down man Daithi Sands spearheads the attack in a side that also includes Derry’s John O’Dwyer and Richie Mullan, Tyrone’s Lorcan Devlin, Rossa’s Gerard Walsh and Doherty’s St John’s club-mates Peter McCallan and Shea Shannon.
Dunloy pair Ryan Elliott and Conall Cunning are also in the UU panel but will not be involved today as they are part of the Cuchullain’s side that takes on St Brigid’s in the Antrim U21 final later today.
Armagh boss O’Connor, who replaced Paddy Kelly in the aftermath of the Orchard’s relegation from Division 2B of the National League back in April, has freshened up his backroom team for the year ahead.
Former Derry star Ruairi Convery comes in alongside Ruairi McGrattan and James Doyle as Armagh continue their rebuilding process after losing some big players in recent years.
And Doherty is convinced that, even though 2018 didn’t go as planned, better days lie ahead for the Orchard.
“Over the last six or seven years, Armagh have been blessed with a real golden generation of players,” he said.
“That group probably peaked when we won the 2016 league [Division 2B] and with the nature of cyclical change, some players have started to drift away, others have retired.
“It’s time for a new generation of Armagh players to come through, the 2018 season just past was the real starting point. Obviously results didn’t go our way but I think it was beneficial to give some of the younger boys lots of game-time.
“Those are the guys Armagh need to be playing to try and build another team.”
Also this afternoon, new Down boss Ronan Sheehan leads his team into battle for the first time when they take on Sean McGourty’s Queen’s University side at the Dub.
The Newry Shamrocks clubman takes over from Marty Mallon - who had been at the helm for the previous two seasons – and knows the ground well having previously taken charge of Down underage teams.
Earlier this year the Ardsmen finished top of Division 2B of the National Hurling League but missed out on promotion after losing to second place Mayo in the league final. They also failed to get out of their group in the Christy Ring Cup.
Sheehan will be without experienced playmaker Conor Woods, who helped Ballycran to the county title as well as a shock Ulster Club Championship victory over defending champions Slaughtneil.
Woods is expected to return for Down’s next game, against Fermanagh on December 29.
Queen’s, meanwhile, are building towards their Ryan Cup campaign, where they have been drawn alongside IT Tralee and Athlone IT.