'Exciting times ahead'. Armagh forward Conor Turbitt looks forward to Division One campaign
LAST season did deliver a return to Division One but it ended on a sour note for Armagh thanks to a mauling from Donegal in a one-sided Ulster Championship semi-final.
The Orchardmen were unable to implement their gameplan that November day and were convincingly beaten by the then reigning Ulster champions. As they trudged off the pitch at Kingspan Breffni, there were few positives for Armagh to take from the game.
However, the performance of forward Conor Turbitt was definitely one. Turbitt had marked his League debut with 1-6 against Cavan and, in his first Championship appearance, the youngster from Lurgan’s Clann Eireann club scored two points after coming on as a substitute which added some respectability to the scoreboard.
Three months later, Turbitt is hoping for more success in the 2021 Championship so he’s doing his best to stay in shape for the return of inter-county football.
“It’s about getting yourself into a good routine, it’s literally about keeping yourself ticking over,” he says.
“It’s going out to the garage and down your gym stuff and going to the park and doing your running. I wouldn’t be a big one for going out for a run – I’d rather get a ball in my hands and play football, but you have to do it.
“You have to get yourself out, it’s good for your mental health and stuff too. So I get up in the morning, I get my college stuff done and then I go out for a bit of training.”
The final year student admits, understandably, that he misses the craic with his college mates in Belfast. This a year of freedom, possibly his last living the student life, that he won’t get back which is a shame but at least he has Armagh’s return to Division One to occupy his mind.
He was 14 when the Orchardmen were relegated from the top flight in 2012 and the county slid down into Division Three before painstakingly forcing their way back into the country’s elite eight. The new format for the 2021 season could see Armagh thrown in at the deep end in ‘Division One North against Tyrone, Donegal and Monaghan’.
“With that (Division One) in mind, you do have motivation to go out and doing the work to make sure you’re fit and ready to compete with the boys up in Division One,” he said.
“The quality in Armagh among the forwards is as good as what’s going anywhere. You have to have your eyes on Division One to gear yourself to be ready for the other teams.”
He won’t have come up against the majority of Armagh’s Division One opponents at senior level yet but at least he has that cameo against Donegal to give him confidence.
“I came on for the last 20 minutes and it was a brilliant moment for me,” he says.
“I would have loved to have some fans in the stands – that would have made it even more special. You grow up watching Armagh in the Championship, so it was obviously a proud moment. It was strange because I made my debut and I got a couple of points which was something I could walk away happy with but, at the same time, we got beat. Ultimately our goal was to win, to get past Donegal, so it was more of a downer than a positive.”
There’s no better environment for Armagh to learn how to avenge that Championship defeat than by playing in Division One. Only Aidan Forker, Brendan Donaghy, Jamie Clarke and Rory Grugan have previous experience of top flight football from 2012 so Turbitt, and the other members of Kieran McGeeney’s young side, will have to find their feet quickly.
“We’re well capable of staying up,” he says.
“It’s a step up – it’s faster, it’s stronger, it’s more intense. We haven’t been there since 2012 so we don’t know but we’re looking forward to it.”
The stand-out result for Armagh in that ill-fated 2012 campaign was their win over Kerry in Tralee and the Orchardmen will have Kieran Donaghy - one of the undoubted stars from that Kingdom outfit - in their dugout this season. The experience of ‘Star’ should certainly help Turbitt and other young forwards including Rian O’Neill in the campaign.
“We have been doing a lot of Zoom stuff with him,” Turbitt explained.
“He obviously has a lot of knowledge of what he’s doing and he is someone that I would have watched over the years but I never imagined that he would have been in the Armagh coaching team.
“Ciaran McKeever is in now too so it’s exciting times, it’s exciting to be able to work with boys who you’ve looked up to and watched through the years. I just can’t wait to get back – the sooner the better for me.”