Belfast Telegraph

Willis is relishing battling pal Bailie

By Keith Bailie

Jay Willis and John Bailie are usually seen standing together in the Ards dugout every Saturday, but at next week's SuperCup NI they will be in direct competition with each other.

Both Willis and Bailie are part of the Ards coaching staff and, under the guidance of manager Niall Currie, are preparing to compete in this season's Danske Bank Premiership.

But Bailie is the manager of the County Down Premier squad, while Willis is the assistant to boss Brendan Grimes in the County Armagh camp.

The two county sides will face each other on Tuesday at the Coleraine Showgrounds in a game that could decide who qualifies for the semi-finals.

Armagh coach Willis laughed: "It's going to be a bit unusual as John and myself are normally in the same dugout, working together.

"On Tuesday we will be working against each other.

"There's been a wee bit of mind games going on. He says we are the best county side this year, while I've been telling him that Down are favourites for the title.

"It's just a bit of a laugh but I do think it will be a very tight game.

"The friendly results suggest that there isn't much between the two sides.

"John and I get on very well. We have a similar outlook on the game, but we will both want to win on Tuesday.

"With Tyrone reaching the final two years ago, and Antrim lifting the trophy last year, I think it's all to play for in the Premier section for the county sides.

"I don't think people realise how far youth coaching has come on in Northern Ireland in the last 10 years. We are now much more professional.

"There is no reason why a county team can't win the trophy again this year, and there is no reason why that team can't be Armagh."

Armagh will start their Premier campaign with a game against Alset of Colombia in Clough on Monday, before playing Ichifuna of Japan on Wednesday in Limavady.

But Willis believes the inter-county game in Coleraine on Tuesday will prove decisive.

He explained: "I think it could all come down to the game between ourselves and Down on the Tuesday.

"In my experience, everybody is buzzing on the Monday and the lads tend to produce a good performance because they're just so full of energy and excitement.

"Then there can be a lull on the Tuesday.

"Come the second day, you have to work that little bit harder with the boys to make sure they are on top of their game.

"It's a difficult week for the boys because they have to play five games in the space of five days.

"You need to keep the spirits high in the camp and make sure that everybody is working together."

In the Junior section, Armagh will play Rangers. What a glamour match that is for the boys from the Orchard county. They will also play County Tyrone and Plymouth Argyle.

Belfast Telegraph


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