Manager Rice hails Armagh's unsung heroes ahead of huge Irish Cup clash with Glentoran
When Armagh manager Marty Rice allows his thoughts to wander to the possibility of staging a major Irish Cup sixth round upset over Glentoran this weekend, one group of people come to the forefront of his mind more than any other.
Not the players, who have already shown their ability to overturn the odds in their favour after defeating fellow Danske Bank Premiership side Ards in the previous round, and who will deserve to lap up every moment of glory if they do manage to pull of the shock of the competition on Saturday.
Instead, Rice feels the unsung heroes, those who have nurtured those players through the club’s highly productive youth system, should be given due thanks, regardless of the result in this so-called David vs Goliath tie.
He said: “I like to think February 8 will be a day to make all of our youth coaches proud, when they can reflect on the important part they have played in getting us to this point.
“A lot of the time, when the first team is doing well, it’s me who gets the praise, but that isn’t always fair. We have coaches from Under-11 right up to Under-18, and a lot of those have had a hand in the development of this team.
“When I came in four seasons ago, we sat down with the committee and worked out a five-year plan to get ourselves competitive again, and a big part of that was bringing players through the youth system.”
It’s a policy that is now beginning to pay off in spades. Armagh’s Under-18 side were the winners of the Northern Ireland Youth Cup two years ago, and Rice has suggested that at least 12 of his 16-man squad lining up to face Glentoran, will have come through City’s younger ranks.
All in all, the fortunes and the future of the club, who are second in Belfast Telegraph Championship Two, are looking much brighter when the current manager arrived.
Rice admitted: “The changes that were made were enforced upon us. After back-to-back relegations, we had to bring through the Under-18s. In a way, the beauty of it was that there was no pressure to succeed straight away… it was a case of going back to basics.
“I think we are in a good position now, and we have turned Holm Park into a fortress – we have gone over 20 games unbeaten at home.”
There is obviously a lot of recognition of Armagh’s progress, and this was manifested with the recent visit of the Glentoran management team to run the rule over their forthcoming opponents.
But does Rice truly believe his troops can achieve the unthinkable with a result on a par with Championship 2 rivals Newington’s famous win at the Oval two seasons ago? He will certainly be able to use the then Amateur League side’s unfancied victory as a motivating factor to inspire his players ahead of the game.
However, with a word of caution, he added: “If that result is fresh in our minds, it will definitely be fresh in theirs, especially for the players that were involved in the game.
“They will know we are a potential banana-skin for them. It’s a no-win for the Glens – if they beat us, it’s ‘only Armagh’, if they lose, it’s a massive upset.
“These are the sort of things we have to thrive on. Look at last season – nobody expected Wigan to beat Man City in the FA Cup final.
“We will need a few of their players to have a howler and a few of ours to have a worldy, but if that happens, who knows?”
Belfast Telegraph Digital