Hurling and camogie

"If you're along the line, you know you're alive..." Antrim legend McNaughton relishing challenge with Armagh hurlers

Terence McNaughton began his tenure as Armagh manager with a 15-point win over Warwickshire. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

TERENCE McNaughton jokes that he's taking night classes to pick up the words of ‘The Boys from the County Armagh' but the Antrim hurling legend has at least as much to teach the Orchard county as he has to learn.

After Padraig O'Connor stepped down earlier this month, McNaughton was drafted in as an interim manager for the rest of this season and the Cushendall native began his first spell in charge of a county other than his own with a 5-18 to 0-18 win against Warwickshire last weekend.

That result was an excellent start for McNaughton but there are more serious challenges coming up and they start on Saturday when Armagh take on Roscommon in the Division 3A semi-finals.

He knew some of the more experienced campaigners, the likes of Nathan Curry and Ryan Gaffney, from coaching courses down through the years but didn't know the younger lads at all and admits he's still getting to grips with the names of his players.

“They're hurling men and hurling men are the same throughout the country,” he said.

“They're decent fellas and no matter where you go I find hurling people very similar. I'm only in the job just over a week and we've had three training sessions and one match, so what can you say after that short period of time?

“Everybody looks good on the training field, it's what you do in games that really matters but as for commitment, yeah I'm getting the commitment from them, I'm happy with that and I'm hoping to get a reaction from them. But to be honest I don't even know all their names at the minute so it's a learning process for me too.”

Ideally, he'd have liked to have taken on the team from pre-season but back then Armagh wasn't on his radar and he wasn't on theirs. McNaughton is already committed to coaching the Antrim U16s and Cushendall minors this year so the call from the Orchard county came out of the blue.

“I was out walking the dog when I got the phonecall,” he explained.

“I had turned down a few other jobs but I thought I would go and maybe take a couple of sessions to help them out and then I got talking to them and then I thought that it's a short season so it shouldn't affect my other commitments that much.

“As for going forward, we'll see if they want me or if I want them after this season. It's a conversation for when this campaign is over. For now I think I'm what they call an interim manager but we'll get together and talk at the end of the season.

“It's my first time managing another county but they're not playing against Antrim – there's no conflict there and I'll do a professional job, I want to do the best for Armagh that I can possibly do. They're hurling men and there's a Freemason-thing going on between us hurling men anyway, we're very clannish. We do play the best sport in the world, so excuse us for being a bit arrogant!”

There has been little or no bedding-in period and the meeting with Roscommon on Saturday will teach McNaughton a few things about his team. A last-minute goal meant the Rossies won 2-17 to 1-19 when they visited the Athletic Grounds earlier this month and Saturday's game is a dress-rehearsal for the Nicky Rackard Cup opener between the counties on Sunday, April 10.

“Winning breeds confidence and we want to be as competitive as we can,” said McNaughton.

“I'm trying to get them as good as I can in the short time I've had them and to be honest I didn't know that much about the other teams in Division 3A when I took this on.

“I've been following Antrim and different things and you never get to see the lower levels on TV – they don't even mention the scores hardly – so I don't have a great knowledge of the other teams but Mattie Lennon (former Armagh player and Armagh, Monaghan and Tyrone manager) and Rory McGrattan are in with me and they would know the other teams so I'm relying a lot on them.

“Mattie is ‘Mr Armagh' and Rory has been with Armagh for a few years so I have to rely a lot, and I mean a lot, on my backroom team to select teams and everything else.”

He's been thrown in at the deep end, but McNaughton is well used to battling to keep his head against water and swimming against the tide and it's no surprise that he's enjoying the challenge.

“They're passionate and committed to their hurling and that's all you can ask from any group of fellas – that's the foundation,” he says.

“I'm enjoying it, I'm enjoying the challenge of looking at the players and trying to get a system in place. At least if you're along the line you know you're alive.”

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Hurling and camogie