Orchard clash will be Championship fare!

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne
�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

BRIAN McIver claims tomorrow night’s National League Division Two clash with Armagh will be as close to the ‘Ulster Championship experience’ as his players get before the real deal against Down on June 2nd.

Michael Wilson reports

Paul Grimley’s team have found their feet since losing to Laois in their opening game and followed that setback up with a battling draw against Wexford and last week’s 3-8 to 2-9 victory over Longford, a result boosted by the return of the county’s Crossmaglen stars including Jamie Clarke and Aaron Kernan.

Derry currently sit second after recording excellent back-to-back victories over Laois and Wexford - two teams Armagh have failed to defeat - and it is a run reflected by the fact McIver has named an unchanged line-up for tomorrow’s game in Celtic Park (throw-in 7.00pm).

Despite sitting second behind Westmeath, only one point separates Derry from sixth placed Armagh and McIver was keen to stress the importance of the Division’s only all Ulster clash in what is a very tight league.

“This is as close to an Ulster Championship game, outside of the real thing, that you are going to get, “ explained the Derry manager.

“It’s the only all-Ulster tie in Division two so that makes Saturday’s game that bit special. It’s an important game for both sides and one which is most definitely a real fifty-fifty encounter. Armagh are always tough opponents at any level.

“The name which always springs to mind when people think of the present day Armagh team is that of Jamie Clarke. Clarke would be among the top forwards in the country, and on his day is electric. We know the all-round threat he poses and that was evident last day out against Longford when he returned to scoring ways the week after winning an inter-provincial medal at Croke Park.”

With Eoin Bradley still ruled out due to the hamstring he pulled in the warm-up to the Wexford game last week Enda Lynn will be hoping to build on what was his most impressive performance in an Oak Leaf jersey. Dermot McBride is likely to be the man detailed to stop Clarke who registered 1-02 against Longford while McIver will be hoping his half-back trio of Gerard O’Kane, Sean Leo McGoldrick and captain Mark Lynch carry on where they left off in last week’s 0-19 to 0-10 win in Wexford Park.

“From our own point of view, we’re happy to have come through the Wexford game unscathed. For the first time this year we’re able to name an unchanged starting line-up. Last Sunday was a good performance but there was certainly a lot of things to work on. The score-line perhaps suggested it was more comfortable than it was in reality. However, it was a good result away from home and something to build on.”

The Ballinderry man said he had been heartened by the messages of support the team had received from fans and ex-county players who McIver believes are really getting behind the county this season.

“I would like to thank each and every supporter who has got behind the team this year. Many of them also travelled the long distance to Wexford. That is a huge statement to make and a very welcome one in support of their county. In the last home game against Laois we felt the supporters really got behind the team vocally and it made a real difference in the closing stages of that match.

“I would also like to express my thanks to all those who have gave personal expressions of support to myself and the team. I’m particularly delighted at the number of ex-county players who have done this. These are the people who have been there, done that, and know what it means to represent your county at the top level. We are very grateful for that support.”