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Armagh's teams are pitching powerful case for silverware

By Ian Callender

All roads from Armagh lead to Moylena this week, where the club are playing in not one but two finals with two more to come, on the same day, later in the season.

It's turning out to be quite a season for Armagh, early contenders for Club of the Year. Not only are all four teams leading their respective leagues - the Midweek team have already won their group - but they have also reached their cup finals.

The 2nd XI are in the Minor Cup final on August 22 and, on the same day, the Thirds will attempt to win the Minor Qualifying Cup for the second time in three years, so the next four or five weeks will decide just how memorable 2015 will be at The Mall.

First up tonight, it's Armagh v Muckamore in the final of the NCU Midweek Cup and then, after the little matter of the Twenty20 Shield final tomorrow night, at the Mall against Larne, it's the big one on Saturday, their first showpiece appearance in the 125-year history of the Junior Cup.

Matthew Steenson, in his first season as Armagh skipper, will have the honour of leading his side out at Muckamore and he admitted: "There's a great buzz about the club, everyone wants to play and it's made my job easy. It's very easy to pick a team when you are going well and everyone is enjoying it."

Having just missed out on promotion from Section Two last year, Armagh were always going to be one of the favourites for both the league and cup, but they had to survive a tough opening game in the Junior Cup.

"We were away to North Down II but Jamie Rogers scored a 50 and we bowled them out for just over 100 and after that the draw just seemed to open up for us," added Steenson.

"Dundrum didn't make it to The Mall for the next round and we played some great cricket in the quarter-final (Stuart Lester scored 131, which was more than the whole Cooke Collegians team) and then we beat our great rivals Laurelvale in the semis. That ended up as a 20-overs game but we scored 181 for three, Colin Russell 81 not out, and won by 37 runs."

Steenson describes Russell as the "main man" with the bat.

"He has been around for as long as I can remember, he has coached most of the younger players as well," he said.

"Jamie Rogers has been a good signing. He is over from England, living with his girlfriend and has been a great addition, I think he has scored four 50s. Andrew Brattan, a former captain, is back from Muckamore, bowling off spin and batting in the middle order, and his experience of playing Premier League cricket has been invaluable.

"Gareth McCarter, another former captain, is behind the stumps with a good knowledge of the game and when we are under the cosh he keeps me calm to make decisions or I can turn to one of the legends of Armagh, David Bullick, who has been a key man with the ball.

"But after playing in Section One, we have learnt the hard way, so after years of defeats it is starting to pay off."

The 2nd XI, Steenson acknowledges, are playing too low a standard, having been relegated from Junior League Four last season and "it's important they come straight back up with players moving up and down between the teams, there is too big a difference in standard".

Third XI and Midweek captain Keith Wilson misses tonight's final as he is in Spain but behind the stumps, as usual, will be Arnold Courtney, one of the oldest playing members anywhere in the NCU.

"Arnold had heart problems but is back, we believe in his late 60s, and still keeping wicket!" added Steenson. Remarkably, like everyone in the club, he has a cup final to play and as Steenson said: "It could go very well for us or go the opposite."

Armagh's opponents on Saturday will be Civil Service North II, who beat Waringstown II in their delayed semi-final at The Lawn last night by 26 runs.

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