Armagh Harps hoping to secure senior glory
By Cian O'Connell
These are encouraging times for Armagh Harps, who contest a fourth County Final since 2009 at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
Holders Maghery have enjoyed a particularly productive stint themselves too so there is no shortage of intrigue surrounding this encounter.
Amazingly Crossmaglen Rangers won 19 of the last 21 titles, but other outfits are beginning to stir.
Harps have invested significant time and effort in the underage ranks according to Chairman Paul Gribben. "There has been a great commitment, yeah, and there still is," Gribben says about the development of teams in the club.
"You have to take it all the way through. Get them in young, get them into the systems, bring them through hopefully."
There is real potential in Harps, who have worked well during the past couple of decades. "It is a big club, we would be one of the biggest clubs in the county," Gribben admits.
"We would be very strong at underage, we would have a lot of numbers at underage. Probably our Under 16 this year were the team with the least numbers, we had enough and no more.
"Coming through now, though, we have great numbers from Under 8s, 10s, 12s, and 14s - we have great numbers coming through. We haven't won the minor championship in a few years, but we have the most minor championships in the county. We were knocked out in the first round this year, we had players on holidays, just one of them things that happens.
"We had a strong minor team, but our Under 14s won the County Feile title and our Under 10 and 12s are winning numerous tournaments and blitzes. We will be very strong going forward if we can keep them."
Gribben acknowledges that a senior crown would offer a huge boost to everyone involved in promoting the game. "Absolutely, but the senior lads would go to training at different times," Gribben states.
"They would show their faces, go to presentations and stuff which is very important, to show the children that the older players and the mature players are looking out for them. I think that is very important."
The fact that Crossmaglen have been beaten in Armagh during the past two Championships offers hope to all the other competitors. "I think so, we played them in the previous two County Finals we were in, they beat us considerably, heavily," Gribben recalls.
"We were very young and inexperienced and we feel we have matured as a team. We played Cross in the Championship last year in the Quarter-Final, they beat us by two points, but the year before they beat us by 22 points in the County Final, so that was a pretty big change.
"We were hoping to get to play them this year, to see how we could do. We felt we were getting closer to them."
Now, though, Harps are firmly focused on Sunday's tussle against Maghery, who delivered in style at this stage in 2016. Harps were victorious back in 1991 so there is a great excitement about the novel pairing. "There is surely, great banter and all," Gribben laughs.
"Maghery are the current champions and deservedly so. They are back in the County Final, fair play to them, they are the form team at the moment and it is going to take us all of what we have.
"We are going to have to play well if we are going to win, if we don't play well we definitely will be chasing because Maghery are a good side. They deserve all the plaudits that they are getting because they have put in a lot of hard work too. Hopefully it will be a good final, we won't mind a bad one either as long as we win."