Donnelly well aware of Orchard talent as neighbours set to meet

By Shaun Casey

NO one has to inform Mickey Donnelly of the talent that’s inside the Armagh changing room. He’s got to witness it first-hand having worked closely with a number of their players and even helped develop them as footballers.

During his years teaching at St Ronan’s College, Lurgan, he’s got to witness up close the kind of quality that is filtering through the Orchard County system. He knew Conor Turbitt, Barry McCambridge, Tiernan Kelly and even Stefan Campbell as school children.

Donnelly watched them grow and helped mould them into footballers that would prove to be key men for Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh and for the last two weeks, he’s been plotting their downfall as Conor Laverty’s right-hand man.

“I had ‘Turbo’ (Turbitt) at school, and I gave him plenty of detentions and often got him to stay behind after school for other reasons other than football,” laughed Donnelly. “When I started in Lurgan, Stefan was there, he’s a past pupil of the school.

“Barry McCambridge, ‘TK’ (Kelly), there’s a good few of the lads that have come through the local school and it’s great to see them doing well and I mean that genuinely. I’m not surprised at all that they made it.

“We were chatting recently about the year we won the Hogan Cup (2018). We watched the Hogan semi-final and ‘TK’ was just amazing that day, he was unbelievable. By his own standards he had a quiet final, but he was unbelievable in the semi-final.

“Barry and ‘Turbo’ were a year older so they both missed out on it and then obviously ‘Soupy’ (Campbell) is a bit older than that but they’re all great lads and they’re all very different individuals.”

Turbitt was the only Orchard forward who didn’t score when the two rivals clashed in last year’s Ulster semi-final, with Armagh winning 4-10 to 0-12, although he’s currently Armagh’s top scorer this season and in great form up front.

Down have made a number of significant changes in the last 12 months. Barry O’Hagan is back; Caolan Mooney has returned, but is out injured, and Odhrán Murdock, who missed out last year having played in the u-20 Ulster final the Wednesday night before, is available.

“That’s just the nature of the beast and we’re probably a team that’s in the early stages of its development. We were looking at an awful lot of players last year. It’s a very different prep week now for Odhrán because we weren’t fit to play him last year.

“It’s great to have him and with squads, players come and go. Conor Poland, Eugene Branagan, ‘Bobo’ (Niall Kane), those lads aren’t even on the panel this year for a variety of reasons (they all started against Armagh last year).

“There has been a good few changes and Armagh probably have a change of personnel for different reasons. They’ve been crippled a wee bit with defensive injuries and that has made big changes to their team.

“But they have very, very deep squad depth and the players that have come in and played a bit more this year, the likes of Joe McElroy, Paddy Burns, they’re excellent players and excellent defenders.

“We saw loads of Paddy playing club football in Down (with Burren) so we’re very aware of the strengths that he has and even young McMullen (Darragh) who played in the league final, so they have damn good players.”

After losing the Division Three league final to Westmeath, Down bounced back with a four-point victory over Antrim in the opening round of the Ulster Championship, but their display that evening was far from convincing.

Donnelly believes that if Down are going to cause an upset against Armagh, who he describes as a “top eight team,” then their performance levels are going to have to improve massively from their last two outings.

“The mood is good, and the boys are really looking forward to doing their best on Saturday. We’re under no illusions, while getting over the line against Antrim was great, the National League tables don’t lie.

“Armagh are now promoted from Division Two, they’re in the top eight teams in the country and that’s a very fair reflection of where they’ve been at these last couple of years,” added Donnelly.

“They were beat by Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final last year on penalties, beat by Galway in the quarter-final on penalties the year before. Armagh’s a top eight team and nobody can make any bones about that.

“There’s just that gap in quality where they are at the minute and it’s about us trying to bridge that gap at every opportunity we get.

“To call a spade a spade, if we produce a performance of the level we played against Antrim or Westmeath, we’re in for a very long afternoon.”

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