By Shaun Casey
ARMAGH u-20 boss and 2002 All-Ireland winner Barry O’Hagan doesn’t mind the knockout element of the u-20 Ulster Championship, in fact, he prefers it.
It didn’t work out well for the Orchard youngsters last season, when they travelled to Ballybofey for the opening round and left the Donegal stadium with a seven-point loss and their season in tatters.
“It’s great if you win the knockout games but if you’re knocked out then you think it should be a round robin but I’m fairly pragmatic around this stuff,” said the Clan na Gael native. “There’s no space in the calendar for a round robin u-20 competition.
“We’ve got a league competition and we knew at the outset it’s knockout, so we have to deal with it. That’s the way it used to be, I prefer it that way, I prefer that at club and county level.
“It is what it is, and we just have to put all our energy into next week and win that game and then we’ll take it from there if we get over the line.”
Armagh enjoyed a good league campaign, winning the Philly McGuinness Cup following an unbeaten run, but the league is the league and O’Hagan believes his side will be judged on their championship exploits.
“We played a series of challenge games over Christmas time, we actually played Queen’s and then we played three league games and that was the platform into the championship.
“We knew we probably got the toughest draw any team in Ulster could have got, preliminary round away to Monaghan, then Cavan, then Tyrone or Down. We’re under no illusions, if we’re going to be successful it’s going to be a hard-won title.
“The league served its purpose, we gave plenty of people gametime, we never had our strongest side out, we always had five or six injured. It served its purpose but at the end of the day it’s a league.
“We’ll not be judged in terms of having league success, it’s great, it gives the lads a bit of confidence, but we set our stall out like all the other teams did, that we want to get a bit of silverware at Ulster level for an Armagh underage team.
“We’re not looking any further than Monaghan. This Monaghan team at minor level got to the Ulster final and were beat by a couple of points by Derry, who went on and won the All-Ireland.
“We’re under no illusions but I have every belief in our lads. I think we’re really well prepared and we have a really good set of lads, we have a really good set of footballers and every match in Ulster would have been tough.
“It’s a level enough championship. We played the likes of Antrim and Fermanagh in friendly games and Donegal and Derry and they’re all quality sides. Going to Monaghan is a tough ask but something we’re really looking forward to.”