Derry among the contenders for Ulster Championship next year says Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney
DERRY deserve a place on the list of contenders for next year's Ulster Championship, says Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney.
The Oak Leaf county haven't won the Anglo-Celt Cup since 1998 but McGeeney – a member of the Armagh side that lost a semi-final to them that summer – rates Rory Gallagher's emerging side highly and expects them to challenge next season.
Division Two outfit Derry begin their Championship at the quarter-final stage against the winners of the Tyrone versus Fermanagh preliminary round. Meanwhile, Armagh travel to Ballybofey to face Declan Bonner's Donegal in what is arguably the game of the round.
McGeeney's Orchardmen will have a full season of Division One football behind them by that stage and should also be in the mix for what he predicts will be a competitive and entertaining provincial Championship.
“There are a lot of good teams out there,” said McGeeney.
“You have Donegal and Derry are really coming through now – they have a couple of new players and Glen are flying high too now so they will fancy their chances next year.
“Then you have Monaghan and ourselves and I'm sure James (McCartan) and Aidan (O'Rourke) will really be pushing with Down. James is a Down man through and through and he'll want to take them back up to the top.
“Ulster football really is flying at the minute and it's quality football, there are very few bad games and we're looking forward to trying to compete with the likes of Tyrone. I think it's what every player should aspire to and I think the boys are excited about it because there's not a game that wouldn't whet your appetite.”
McGeeney's Armagh squad returned to full training last Wednesday night and have the pre-season focus of Friday night's clash with Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds in aid of the Time2Play charity.
Like their opponents, the Orchardmen will field a number of emerging young hopefuls in the game and McGeeney expects it to be a valuable exercise for his extended panel.
“I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do,” he said.
“They don't lack confidence or ability. It's probably a bit of a daunting task for them to be thrown in against Tyrone for their first game but I think it's a great introduction for them. The night that's in it, there's going to be a wee bit of pressure off and they'll have senior players around them.
“When you play an All-Ireland-winning team, even when they play badly, they're playing well. They are flying with confidence but Tyrone never lack confidence because they've been a Division One team for years.
“Mickey (Harte) had them at the top for what seemed like forever so it's a good test for us and that's one of the most exciting things about the night – it's going to be a great game of football.
“It's £10 in and you get a great game, a bit of craic, the kids get to see Santa Claus and I'll be wearing a Christmas jumper... Sure what more would you want?”