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“You don’t get a medal now, you have to finish the job…” Armagh minor star James McCooe looking forward to All-Ireland final clash with Derry

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HIS manager Aidan O’Rourke left with a bit of advice as Armagh minor vice-captain James McCooe slipped a little uncomfortably into his seat.

“Tell them (the reporters) nothin’ James,” said O’Rourke, half-joking.

James and his twin brother Dylan have been under O’Rourke’s wing long enough to listen and so he took his manager’s instruction on board and said as little as possible.

But that’s ok. When teenagers talk to adults they rarely use two words when one would do and, after all, this is a young fella talking about the All-Ireland final. It’s all a bit daunting.

A few weeks ago the Ulster final was the biggest game of his life, then the All-Ireland quarter final (Longford), then the semi-final (Mayo)… Now it’s Derry in the decider, only the fifth in Armagh’s history and they’ve won two of those.

So these are great days for the county and McCooey, a flame-haired forward who’s following in the footsteps of senior stars Conor Turbitt, Tiernan Kelly and Barry McCambridge from Clann Eireann’s Lurgan nursery.

“To be honest, when you are around our club and Lurgan in general, football is the big thing,” he says.

“It’s hard not to get into it. You find your way into it and once you get going you can’t really stop.”

So he’s enjoying his football?

“It’s been a good season,” he says.

“We’ve one more game to push on and see if we can win. I knew from last year when we won the Buncrana Cup that we’d some good players coming up. We just need to keep working and see what happens and see what we can do in the final.”

Armagh v Antrim
James McCooe up against Antrim duo Odhran Doherty and Padraic O Mulrigh at Crossmaglen. Picture: Seamus Loughran (seamus loughran)

Sunday’s final at Healy Park will be Armagh’s third championship joust with Derry this year and the Oak Leafers won the previous two by 17 points and, in the Ulster final, two points so the gap is closing.

“After you look back at the Ulster final it’s ‘ifs, buts and maybes’,” says McCooe.

“At the end of the day, we have to take our loss and see where we can improve on. I think we’ve done that and we just need to keep working and push on and see what we can do. What I can see is we are just improving game-on-game. Hopefully, we’ll just keep the workrate we’ve held all year and we can so something in the final.

“It’s brilliant to be where we are but you don’t get a medal now, you have to finish the job. We’ve worked all year and we need to put in a performance to match that workrate.”

He’ll be going into upper-sixth at St Ronan’s in Lurgan in September and says football has provided an enjoyable contrast to his studying.

“I just like playing football to be fair,” says the hard-working half-forward.

“When you’re playing with good lads and you’re improving game-on-game, you can’t not enjoy it.

“You’re meeting lads from different clubs but, over time, you are mates with them. There’s no real differences, you just treat them the same.”

“It’s tough (with studying), but you have to find a balance. School is the priority so you have to keep the head in the books. Football is like a getaway – you have to enjoy it.”

His answer given, he looks around… No more questions? Great. Yeah. Nice one. Cheers. All the best.

Up he gets.

“Best of luck in the final,” call the reporters.

“Thanks,” replies James as the door shuts behind him.

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