County preview series – Co Armagh

Long serving County Armagh Junior coach Chris Chambers is confident he can unearth another gem as his side get ready to go toe to toe with some of the very best at the 2023 SuperCupNI.

“The quality of our teams gets better and better every year and talent wise this year we are very good, and it seems to getting better year on year.

Armagh came up against Scottish outfit Rangers at SuperCupNI 2022

“The tournament is fantastic, and I love it and the counties always produce a gem or two who has been hiding or not playing in one of the top leagues.

“For smaller counties like Armagh, we can give that opportunity to a lot of players who maybe don’t play in the National League and there is always a Mid-Ulster League or Lisburn League player who comes through and shines for us!

The 35-year-old sees great potential in his side this year but isn’t too worried if the week doesn’t go to plan for his squad.

Co Armagh met local rivals Co Down at SuperCupNI 2022

“I can see a real excitement from them,” he said.

“There’s potential with them and I think the boys can see that and if they can get that potential right then they could actually find themselves in a really good position after the first three days.

“If they don’t, they don’t and they’re always going to have great experiences regardless of what happens.

The Glenavon clubman has seen it all at the tournament and admits it is an exciting week.

“I’ve experienced it all at the tournament and I’ve been lucky enough to finish third in the competition, but I’ve also experienced what it’s like to be near the bottom of it and after every year the boys always tell me it was the best week of their lives and that is something we should all cherish.”

County Armagh’s Junior side are in a group with Ulster rivals County Londonderry, English side Stevenage FC and American outfit FC America.

Ahead of his final tournament in charge of the side, Chambers is embracing the variety of tests they will play in the group stage.

He said: “What’s good about it is they’re all unknown.

“The games against Stevenage are the ones you enjoy the most because you just don’t know what you’re going to play against.

“I have a few friends in England, which will help me get a bit of knowledge on them but I imagine they will be your typical Academy team from England.

It was international opposition for Co Armagh when they met USA outfit San Francisco Glens at SuperCupNI 2022

“The American team could be anything, they could be technical, they could be physical, but we’ve played a number of American teams over the last couple years, and we’ve done very well against them so I’m hoping we’ll be able to carry that on this year.”

Chambers, who is a coach of Glenavon’s Under-20 side, believes county teams come into the tournament wanting to play the likes of Stevenage and FC America.

He said: “You’re in the tournament first and foremost to play the teams from England, Europe, or further abroad.

“The county teams, if I’m being honest with you, you would prefer to avoid them.

“Personally if we were to get a county team, I was pretty happy enough to get Londonderry because we play Tyrone and Down often so we know each other well.”

Armagh’s SuperCupNI 2016 team met a Rangers side which featured a young Billy Gilmour before he headed on to Chelsea and then Brighton & Hove Albion

During his six years in charge of Armagh Chambers has had many fond memories, but Armagh’s 3rd place finish in 2016 is certainly one he won’t forget.

“The best memory was the year we finished third overall,” he said.

“We played Manchester United in the semi-final, which was a great experience.

“Unfortunately, we lost 2-0, but I think the most pleasing thing was the way we played the following day to beat Southampton. The boys put on a great performance to win 5-1 and finish third overall.

“It showed the kind of resilience we had that year, and we had a fantastic group of players and parents who just bought into everything, which just made it so much easier that year.”

In the Premier section, Armagh, who are led by Gary Wilkinson have also been drawn against County Londonderry and the Orchard outfit will open the tournament against one of the host counties on Monday evening in Portstewart. Day two will see Armagh face Dubliners St Kevin’s and their third and final clash is a compelling clash against Scottish giants Rangers.

Write up by Stuart McCracken