Stefan hails progress of Orchard County minors

By Niall Gartland

ARMAGH minor coach Stefan Forker has acknowledged that qualifying for this weekend’s Electric Ireland Ulster final against Derry is a big deal for the county.

The Orchard County haven’t made much of an impression at underage level in recent years and the last time they won an Ulster Minor Championship was all the way back in 2009, losing subsequent deciders in 2010, 2011 and 2014.

This year’s crop booked their spot in the final with victory over Donegal last weekend, and while they’ll be hell bent on taking home the title, there’s no denying that making it to the final two is indicative of the progress they have made.

Forker said: “I wasn’t particularly aware until recently about our poor record at underage. It’s been ongoing so there’s no doubt getting to the final is an achievement.

“From our point of view, it also means that we’ll play in an All-Ireland quarter-final so we’re happy about that too.

“The boys were obviously very happy last Saturday after the Donegal game but we need to get our heads right again to actually go and give a good account of ourselves on Sunday.”

Their run to the cusp of provincial honours hasn’t come completely out of the blue as this team won last year’s Buncrana Cup at u-16 level with a thoroughly deserved win over Tyrone. Then there’s the success of their Dromintee contingent, who came out on top of the rebooted Paul McGirr tournament last December.

But at the same time, Forker, who is the right-hand man of team manager Aidan O’Rourke, points out that these things don’t always run in straight lines, particularly at underage level.

“The Buncrana Cup was a big deal for us and a lot of work went into that by a lot of coaches.

“But at this level, lads can progress and regress quite quickly. Someone who was the cream of the crop six months ago mightn’t be any more.

“But I have to say, the physical development of our lads even in the last three or four months have been unbelievable.”

Derry are the only side to have got the better of Armagh en route to the final and Forker knows they’ll have to produce something special to get the better of a side that can call upon a batch of players who won last year’s All-Ireland title at this level.

“Derry are the standard-bearers and we learnt that ourselves in the group stages. They’re a good side, good players and they’ve really got their house in order at schools level and so on. Hopefully we can compete a bit better than we did in the round robin.”

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