Armagh minor boss Aidan O’Rourke sees progress despite defeat by Derry

Derry v Armagh   6.jpg
Derry v Armagh 6.jpg (seamus loughran)

FIFTEEN years without a provincial minor title, 16 years since their last senior success, and 17 since triumph at U20/21 level – but Aidan O’Rourke is still confident that Armagh football is competitive and heading in the right direction.

The Dromintee man led the Orchard County to their first Ulster minor final in a decade on Sunday, and they made holders Derry battle all the way to retain their title in a tense decider at Healy Park.

Despite the obvious disappointment at the 0-12 to 1-7 defeat, O’Rourke accepted that even reaching a final was a sign of progress for Armagh at underage level:

“When you take a step back, that’s an important aspect of it. For the rest of us who have been involved in development squads and the player pathway, it’s a nice indicator.

“You don’t have to be winning provincial and All-Ireland titles to produce a senior team, as Armagh have demonstrated over the past 10 years or so, but it certainly helps. It certainly helps when players come out of the system confident and knowing they can compete, that they’re as good as anybody else.

“Over the last four or five years in particular there’s been a serious amount of work that has gone on, in the Orchard Academy in particular. We’re competitive at every age, winning competitions at 15s and 16s. That’s been going on for four or five years; these boys are probably the first wave of that.

“We’d like to think from an Armagh perspective that, whatever happens over the rest of the Minor year, there’s a pathway of players starting to come through.”

A ORourke.jpg
A ORourke.jpg (seamus loughran)

Although O’Rourke says of this year’s Armagh Minors, “For these boys, that doesn’t matter. They’re only interested in this team and winning matches,” they still have the All-Ireland series to look forward to.

Armagh will meet surprise Leinster champions Longford in the national quarter-finals and O’Rourke believes they can still impress on that stage:

“Young fellas are very resilient… these lads in particular have been knocked down a few times, had some bad press, and their performances have been up and down across League and Championship.

“But they know when they concentrate and work hard they’re as good as anybody. They proved that against Derry – we didn’t win the match, so there’s no solace in that. We didn’t come to do well, we wanted to win the Ulster Championship.

“But we had two competitions to focus on at the start of the year, the first one’s gone now and we’ve another one ahead of us.

“We have a very important two weeks ahead of us and I know the lads will work hard. The clubs in Armagh have been brilliant.

“The tricky bit for the northern teams is that they’re right in the middle of exams, so they’re turning up at training with their eyes going round in their heads, cramming nights before – but they’re a brilliant group of lads, I know they’ll come back fighting.”