Forker: Condensed season has its plus points

By Shaun Casey

ARMAGH know what to expect when they head to Brewster Park this weekend to open their Ulster Championship account for 2024, and they won’t be taking anything for granted says captain Aidan Forker.

The Maghery man lined out at wing-back when the sides clashed at the same stage and at the same venue in 2018, just one month after Kieran McGeeney’s side had overcome Fermanagh in the Division Three league final at Croke Park.

But the Erne County proved much the better side come championship and earned a 0-12 to 0-7 victory on their way to securing their place in the Ulster final. More recently, during this year’s league, Armagh left Enniskillen with a four-point win.

“I’ve played Fermanagh many times over the years, and they’re a proud county,” said Forker, now in his 12th season with Armagh. “Those players are proud men and proud Fermanagh men. We know we’re going to go there and get a real tough test.

“Every game in Ulster, I would argue, is very challenging and very tough but we’ll embrace it. We’ll look at the Ulster Championship and Fermanagh and see where it takes us. Ulster is very competitive. It’s the old cliché of taking it one game at a time, but you have to.”

Armagh travel to Brewster Park off the back of their first defeat of the season. Having gone on a seven-game unbeaten run in the league, the Orchard County lost out to Donegal in the Division Two final two weeks ago.

“I think we can look positively on it, definitely,” added Forker of Armagh’s Division Two league campaign.

“That was the goal, to get back up to Division One; we were probably unlucky to go down last year you could argue.

“But Division Two is not an easy division, and we were under no illusions that we had to be at our best and perform every time we went out. Thankfully, we did that. We probably had a slowish start against Louth, but we knew that they were fairly strong and one of the better teams that we have faced this year, so that wasn’t easy.

“We’re glad to be back up in Division One and we’ll take the learnings into next year and take the learnings from last year to hopefully be a wee bit better in Division One.”

With the condensed season, it really is week-on-week and Armagh haven’t had to long to focus on that league final defeat, with championship preparations starting the minute they left Croke Park.

“It’s fine when the going is good, you get recovery in between games and it keeps you on your toes, but I suppose if you get a muscle injury of any sorts, you’re going to be on the back foot.

“I enjoy it because the condensed season is definitely a welcomed thing for players.

“It makes it exciting in terms of teams are possibly one or two injuries away from being competitive or not competitive. So, there is a big onus on individuals to do their recovery and look after themselves.”

Forker is one of the older heads in the squad now but has enjoyed seeing the young blood such as Oisin Conaty and Peter McGrane emerge and blossom this season.

“There is no doubt those two boys have been an absolute credit to themselves, in terms of how they have applied themselves,” said the Armagh captain. “Physically, they have got themselves to the level that’s required.

“They’re big, strong, powerful and they’re adding a lot to us going forward and in defence. They’re two honest boys who really want to play for their county, and it’s a great lesson for anyone who is aspiring to push into the group.

“They have been really patient and hardworking, and they got their chance, and they seized it and they have never looked back. They will only get better in my opinion.

“There is massive competition for places and training is very intense and competitive. Everybody wants one of those starting berths and that’s a good thing. I suppose that’s healthy in a group.

“It’s great to see anybody coming on (from the bench) who you know is experienced and physically ready and has great appetite to come in and have an impact.

“It’s brilliant. We’re a really strong group, a really close-knit group, things are going good and we’re hoping to get a bounce going into the Ulster Championship.”

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