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Armagh's Vernon has sights fixed on a double glory target

 

By John Campbell

He may be on what is regarded as the wrong side of thirty but Charlie Vernon has already set himself two demanding targets as club championship action is stepped up considerably in every Ulster county.

Not only is he keen to see Harps retain the Armagh title that they collected for the first time in twenty-nine years last year, but he is also already strongly focussed on helping the orchard county mount a strong promotion bid from Division Two of the Allianz Football League.

Nowhere is club action intensity more pronounced right now than in Armagh but with the cream beginning to come to the surface in counties such as Down, Derry, Monaghan and Fermanagh, Vernon is convinced that club championship football in the province has reached a higher plateau.

"When you look at it, some clubs have been very consistent in different counties in Ulster and this helps to paint a very healthy picture overall," reflects Vernon.

"There is a tremendous drive by clubs within their counties to reach the top and we certainly know this is very much the case in Armagh."

Harps were defeated by 2016 champions Maghery on Sunday night but have an opportunity to reach the quarter-finals should they overcome Granemore in a play-off this weekend.

It's a match that Vernon, an accountant with the Conway Group in his adopted home town of Magherafelt, views as crucial.

"We want to reach the last eight," he insists.

"We have watched Ballymacnab, Crossmaglen, Maghery and St Patrick's get there already and we are very keen to join them."

The experience gained by several Harps players at inter-county level recently is reflective, he believes, of the maturity gained by club competitors in other counties.

"When you look at Harps, you see players like Joe McElroy, Declan McKenna, Paddy Morrison and Ryan McShane coming through strongly and I think that's because Kieran McGeeney has shown faith in them at inter-county level," points out Vernon.

"Then you look at the way that Harry Loughran won an All-Ireland intermediate medal with Moy earlier this year before going on to progress with Tyrone, while people like Conor McCarthy and Niall Kearns have flourished with Monaghan.

"Players know that county team managers across the board will be taking in club championship games in great detail over the coming weeks and that's why everyone will be on their toes, especially those who are particularly keen to break into inter-county squads."

Vernon, whose ability to play at midfield, half-back or in defence renders him an invaluable commodity from Armagh's perspective, is particularly anxious that Kieran McGeeney's side should retain their Division Two slot "at the very least" in 2019.

"Yes, ideally we would want to be at least staying in Division Two at the very least if not pushing on out of it," insists Vernon with considerable passion.

"If Armagh are to grow and get better that has to be their aim."

The new format under which the Armagh championship is being staged this year has added allure to the competition and helped to bring bigger crowds to matches.

Chairman Michael Savage confirmed that the co-operation of the clubs has been a vital element in the success of the championship to date.

"I must say I have been very impressed with the manner in which matches are being hosted at junior, intermediate and senior levels," stated Savage.

"The feedback from all sides has indeed been most encouraging and this gives us a big lift going forward."

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