Armagh under 20s get Ulster Championship campaign underway

This weekend our under 20s begin their Championship campaign when they meet old rivals Tyrone, in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday.

Peter’s McDonnell’s men look to go one better than last year, when they failed to get past Derry in the opening round of the competition, but this season they have the advantage of playing on home soil.

Memories of this same encounter, in the same venue, from 2018 come flooding back, which was marred by a vicious brawl that broke out between the two sides. Armagh went on to win that encounter after extra time and were beaten in the Ulster Final against Derry that year.

Tyrone will be no pushovers this weekend as they are the defending Ulster Champions. The Athletic Grounds will be no stranger to the Tyrone players as they defeated Derry in the 2019 Ulster Final at the same venue.

The Red Hands hold Darragh Canavan in their ranks and the Errigal Ciaran man needs no introduction. Canavan has been part of Mickey Harte’s senior squad for the past two years so Armagh will attempt to derail his influence on the game.

Antoin Fox is another Tyrone player to keep an eye on and the 2020 Captain was inspirational from centre half back last season, when Tyrone were defeated by Cork at the All-Ireland semi final stage.

Armagh have prepared for this clash having competed in the under 20 development league back in January. They played three games across three weekends, facing Cavan, Westmeath and Monaghan.

Armagh only tasted victory once with an impressive victory over Cavan in round one, edging a five goal thriller to win 2-18 to 3-13, when they were undoubtedly the better team on show.

Cian McConville produced the goods that day, hitting 0-7 and Armagh will hope the Crossmaglen attacker is on form this weekend, as he is their main scoring threat in the forward line.

Battling against the difficult weather conditions against Westmeath the second day out, Armagh were beaten by six points. Trailing by seven at the interval, Armagh couldn’t rally in the second and lost out 0-13 to 1-7

Things did improve in round three and although they were once again defeated, the Orchard County displayed a better performance. Monaghan goals either side of the break ultimately decided the outcome, the Farney men winning 2-12 to 0-11.

McDonnell gave game time to a host of players across the three games and having seen everyone in competitive action; the Armagh boss should be close to knowing his strongest starting team.

Shea Magill is likely to be handed the number one jersey and the Killeavy youngsters kick outs will be central to Armagh’s game plan. Magill was called into Kieran McGeeney’s senior squad at the start of the season.

In defence, Paul Martin will play at full back while Armagh have an attack minded half back line, with the likes of Ronan Mallon and Tomas McCormack keen to bomb forward at every opportunity and well fit to take a score when in the position.

McDonnell won’t be short of options around the middle eight and this is where Armagh are strongest. Shane O’Neill’s man Ciaran Mackin will claim a spot in either midfield or half forward as he continues his good club form.

Similarly Tiernan Kelly will be around the middle, most likely at centre half forward. Kelly is an inspiration figure inside the Armagh ranks and his direct running style is key to his sides attacking play.

Niall McCorry and Louis Hughes are also options in the middle and both could spend some time in the full forward line as well, McCorry wore the number 14 shirt against Derry in round one last year.

At wing half forward will be Captain Justin Kieran and the Grange clubman will look to lead from the front. Kieran is an accurate free taker and his work rate will be important if Armagh are to claim victory.

Cian McConville will be the main score getter for Armagh and he is the man who can makes things happen, so they will want to get him on the ball as much as possible.

Armagh will be up against it and this is the third year in a row that they have been drawn against the current champions. Home advantage could play its part and Armagh will need to be at their best to getting something from this game.