Derry hoping history will repeat itself

Derry-Armagh minors
Derry-Armagh minors

IT was hearts in the mouth stuff when these two sides locked horns in the Ulster final. While Derry had their noses ahead for the majority of the contest, they couldn’t quite free themselves from the clutching claws of the Orchard County.

With two-points the difference and the whistle keenly pressed against the referee’s lips, Armagh had one last throw of the dice. An almost inch-perfect long ball into the square was hurriedly cleared away by the retreating defence and Derry held on to their provincial crown.

Armagh players sunk to their knees, devastated. They’d been so close, and yet so far from earning their county a first piece of minor championship silverware since 2009. As fate would have it, Derry once again stand in their way of achieving that same target.

While the faces may be different, the names on the orange side of Sunday’s matchday programme will make for familiar reading. O’Rourke, Marsden and McEntee are some of the most famous names in Armagh GAA history.

Aidan O’Rourke, Diarmuid Marsden and Tony McEntee were crucial members of the Joe Kernan’s side when the Orchard County collected the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time in their history in 2002.

Now their sons, Diarmaid O’Rourke, Ross Marsden and Keelan McEntee, are hoping to follow in the famous footsteps of their fathers and help an Armagh team capture a new set of Celtic Crosses.

There are deep family ties within Aidan O’Rourke’s young side. Captain Shea Loughran is a grandson of Peter Loughran, who represented the county in the 1977 All-Ireland final, while Shea’s father, Peter Jnr, won an Ulster medal with Armagh in 1999.

Conal Wilson’s dad, Davy Wilson, was a member of that panel as well while his uncle Conor Wilson featured in an All-Ireland minor final way back in 1992, alongside future Orchard heroes like Marsden, Paul McGrane and Barry O’Hagan, when they lost to Meath by a point.

Derry’s family connections are fairly well known at this stage too. After winning the Ulster title back in May, Derry GAA twitter a beautiful picture of Dara McGuckin, with his grandfather and father, Adrian and Adrian Jnr, three generations of Ulster champions.

Unlike their Armagh counterparts, the Derry youngsters don’t have to look too far in search of All-Ireland medals. There’s a stack of them already assembled in that changing room and this group is hoping to add to Derry’s ever-growing trophy cabinet.

McGuckin, along with Luke Grant, James Sargent, Eamon Young and Ger Dillon, all featured in last year’s showpiece when Damian McErlain’s men put Monaghan to the sword with an impressive display.

The build up to last year’s final is almost identical to this time around, only Armagh have replaced Monaghan as Derry’s adversary. In 2023, Derry also overcome Monaghan in the Ulster final before beating them in the All-Ireland decider.

Last year, Monaghan reached the last four of the race for Sam Maguire, just as the Armagh seniors have done 12 months on. Whether that counts for anything or not, Derry will take it as a positive omen and hope that history repeats itself.

The county has never achieved back-to-back All-Ireland titles at any age grade, so history is on the line for them, but that’s a challenge they’ll surely relish.

Armagh are hunting for a third ever crown at this level, and come Sunday afternoon, will hope that another famous son, Jarlath Burns, is handing over the Tom Markham Cup, stripped out in orange and white streamers, to the Orchard skipper.