County Armagh Junior manager Chris Chambers admitted his side are relishing the opportunity to take on Scottish giants Rangers on the opening night of the STATSports SuperCupNI.
In recent years this fixture has been an almost annual occurrence, with the Orchard County going toe to toe with their illustrious Glaswegian opposition in 2017 and 2016.
Armagh Juniors manager Chambers said it is a huge challenge for his side.
“I’ve been involved in the setup as a coach and a manager for a few years now and we always seem to get a big game against Rangers!
“It will be a great experience for this squad and there should be a big crowd there in Ballymoney on the opening night.”
Chambers said that it can be a tricky task keeping everyone focused and level-headed ahead of the opening game.
“People talk about preparation before the tournament and all the build up to it, but I’ve found over the last few years that staying focused can be a major challenge from the Sunday afternoon when they arrive.
“The parade on Sunday evening is a great occasion and then it can be a long wait until the Monday and it can be a case of curbing their excitement and ensuring everyone is focused and ready for kick off.”
The Orchard County face a second Scottish side on day two, with Dundee United returning to the competition. Chambers said he has heard good things about the Taysiders.
“We are expecting them to be a quality side and we are expecting a similar style of football to Rangers. It is a huge challenge for us, and we have another massive game against Londonderry on the Wednesday.
“Those are the sort of games you want to play in, and you want to play quality teams at the competition. This year the Junior section looks like it could be one of the best in years and we can’t wait to kick off.”
Last summer Armagh reached the last four of the Junior competition, before being defeated by Manchester United. Chambers was honest enough to admit that Armagh have been ‘punching above their weight’ for a number of years.
“Reaching the semi-finals last year was incredible and to be honest we have been overachieving for a few years when you compare our player pool and resources to some of the other clubs coming over.
“I’ve been involved now for four years and it is my third as manager and to be honest it is very much a case of learning as you go along and making slight adjustments and changes every year.
“Last year we got our preparations right and we were blessed with an incredible group of players and this year we are really happy again with the make-up of the squad.
“We work tirelessly to ensure we create a professional environment for the boys and we highlight to them that we want to be competitive and we want to test ourselves against the very best.”
Both of the Armagh panels are now in the closing stages of their preparations for the competition and Chambers, who is joined by Mark Porter, Michael Morrow and Johnny Pollock in the dug-out, said he is delighted with the quality of his final 18.
“The 2004 age group across NI is a very strong one, but we probably have one of the smallest available pool of players playing National Youth League. I think between the 2004 and 2005 players that trialled there were about 24 who play National Youth League.
“We saw this as a great opportunity to see what players from other leagues could impress and we have some very talented players from the Mid-Ulster Youth League involved and it has perhaps opened up a pathway between ourselves and clubs in the Mid-Ulster Youth League and highlighted that we can provide them with an opportunity to play against the very best.
“We had some difficult decisions to make as coaches and it was a big challenge to select the final 18 but we got there in the end and everyone now is just counting down the days until we head up to Coleraine for the parade.”
In the Premier section, Ciaran O’Kane’s Premier side open their competition against Californian regulars Strikers FC at Castlerock. Day two will see the Armagh U17s face Valencia at the Riada Stadium, before concluding their competition with an Ulster derby against Fermanagh at the Warren in Portstewart.
Armagh Junior – fixtures and venues
Monday 29th July – Armagh v Rangers – 7pm – Riada Stadium, BallymoneyTuesday 30th July – Armagh v Dundee United – 4pm – CloughWednesday, 31st July – Armagh v Londonderry – 5.30pm – Anderson Park, Coleraine
Armagh Premier – fixtures and venues
Monday 29th July – Armagh v Strikers – 5.30pm – CastlerockTuesday 30th July – Armagh v Valencia – 4.45pm – Riada Stadium, BallymoneyWednesday, 31st July – Armagh v Fermanagh – 3pm – The Warren, Portstewart