Ulster Minor previews: Armagh out to topple Derry


Derry v Armagh

Wednesday, Owenbeg, 7.30pm

YOU know how it goes – one week you’re winning an All-Ireland title, the next you’re back where it first started in the first round of the championship.

Obviously that’s a joke and we’re in this situation because of Covid-19, but Marty Boyle, the man who managed Derry to the delayed All-Ireland Championship title, is now preparing the 2021 minor team for their first-round clash against Armagh.

It’s a strange situation, and arguably the pressure is off, but this new minor team will also want to make their mark. There’s a few players involved who played in their All-Ireland final victory over Kerry, namely Patrick McGurk, Niall O’Donnell and Ryan McEldowney, while Niall Dougan was on the panel.

Because underage football is so strong in the Oak Leaf county right now, they’ll be favourites to take the spoils, but Armagh will be determined to get a positive result after a difficult few weeks at underage and senior level.

They’re managed by Keady native Brendan Hughes, who led Armagh alongside Shane McConville to the Ulster Minor title all the way back in 2005. Curiously, their defeated opponents Down went on to win the All-Ireland title that year as there was a backdoor in those days, so it was a fine Armagh team.

The Orchard county lost to Derry in a keenly competitive Ulster Minor Championship quarter-final before Christmas. There’s three players from last year’s panel involved – Gareth Murphy, Emmett McGee and Feargal O’Brien.

Hughes also has a good idea of what’s going on in Derry football as he’s been a native of the city for quite some time. He memorably managed Pearse Og to the Armagh title in 2009, halting Crossmaglen’s 14 in-a-row bid.

He also has a strong backroom, including McConville who led Maghery to the Armagh SFC title in 2016, Paul Watters, Brendan Savage and Barry Watters.

It’s still a big ask to overcome Derry, but it’s a good set-up so you never know what could happen on the day.

Verdict: Derry


Tyrone v Down

Wednesday, Healy Park, 7.30pm

THIS has the potential to be a cracking tie as both teams are understood to be strong.

Tyrone are managed by Stewartstown native Gerard Donnelly, and it’s also worth noting his backroom team as he’s enlisted former county stars Conor Gormley, Ciaran Gourley, as well as renowned Donaghmore coach Gary Hetherington and Errigal Ciaran player Tommy Canavan.

In terms of personnel, they have a few players involved from the team who lost by a point to eventual All-Ireland Champions Derry just a month ago, including Michael Rafferty, Callan Kelly and Cormac Devlin, who all started that day against the Oak Leafers.

Down, meanwhile, are managed by Patrick Cunningham, and they’re backboned by players of the successful underage Burren team. They played against Tyrone two years ago in a seriously feisty encounter (former Tyrone senior coach Gavin Devlin ended up getting a suspension) so there’ll be no love lost when they met next Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of the game, Tyrone’s new minor manager Donnelly said he won’t be taking away players from their clubs even though preparations have been difficult for all underage county teams this year because of Covid.

“I’m never going to tell any man not to play for their clubs, every man on the management team are club-men first, and if the lads have club games we’ll play them and fingers crossed they won’t get hurt.”

He also said it’s great to have such a high-powered backroom team behind him.

“It’s fantastic, the two lads are busy as well, Ciaran and Conor, they have family lives as well. They can’t be there the odd time and I said to them ‘no pressure’. Gary and Tommy have been a fantastic help, even the likes of Gerard Devine who looks after the kits, you really see when you get to this level, the extra help that you need. It’s a been a fantastic if short-lived experience but it’s been great to have everyone working together for a common goal.”

Verdict: Tyrone


Cavan v Fermanagh

Wednesday, Kingspan Breffni, 7.30pm

CAVAN could do with a lift after a pretty dire few weeks at underage and senior level.

Their u-20 team were hammered out of the gate by Conor Laverty’s well-drilled dOWN team, and the senior footballers’ campaign came to a limp end against Tyrone.

Cavan fans don’t seem to have particularly high hopes for this minor team, but it seems a bit early to judge as they haven’t had a pre-season competition this year. They’re spearheaded by Killygarry brothers Darragh and Kevin Lovitt, two fantastic forwards, and they’re managed by Gary Farrelly.

Fermanagh, meanwhile, will be hopeful of doing well as they’ve enlisted seven members of the 2020 panel, who came so close to overturning Monaghan in the Ulster Championship semi-final. Louis Donnelly is a brilliant talent (he’s a nephew of former Tyrone player Paul Donnelly while his father Sean, originally from Beragh in County Tyrone, is Ederney chairman) as is Jamie McCaffrey. When you consider that almost half their likely starting team played in that close-run contest against the Farney, you could see a Fermanagh victory here.

Verdict: Fermanagh

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