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Armagh footballers Jemar Hall and Blaine Hughes believe that taking on the big guns Tyrone and Donegal in the national league will be formidable preparation for the Ulster championship clash against Antrim.

Both have targeted an Ulster championship final this year and it can be argued the draw looks more favourable than the task Down face, but having returned to collective training, for the first time this year, earlier in the week, the immediate focus is on the national league.

The Sports Team met up with Blaine and Jemar at their impressive new H & H gym on the Quarter Road in Camlough. The Orchard duo have been running an online fitness platform H & H but with the restrictions being lifted next week the gym will be officially opened for classes, personal training and team training as well as personal workouts.

Armagh players, Jemar Hall and Blaine Hughes in their new H&H Gym in Camlough. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Armagh players, Jemar Hall and Blaine Hughes in their new H&H Gym in Camlough. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Jemar Hall is entering his sixth season with Armagh, while Blaine is starting his fifth and they were both delighted to make the return to training.

“It was good to get back and it was just good to have the craic with the lads first of all,” said Hall.

“It is good see everyone and train with a ball in my hands rather than training on my own. It is good to get back as a team and get the collective sessions done because we have a limited time with the first game coming so soon and I am really looking forward to getting back this weekend.

“There’s camaraderie and you need to have that culture in your team, and you have to have that because it is just good to see the lads and have a bit of slagging.

“Four weeks, it doesn’t give you much time to get ready, but I suppose everyone is in the same boat. “We just have to work with the time we have and spend it wisely. It will get us set up for the Ulster championship as well, it will get us playing all the top teams. We have played them all before and they are all going to be tough games, so we are going to have to get stuck in from the word go.“There’s no holding back.”

Blaine and Jemar in action against Kildare in 2019. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
Blaine and Jemar in action against Kildare in 2019. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Goalkeeper Hughes agrees that the limited time frame will help sharpen minds.

“Especially after getting back to training on Monday night, I would say collectively our aim would be to stay up in division one as an overall goal and then try and get to an Ulster final as it is something that we haven’t been able to do in recent years.”

Armagh will play Monaghan, Tyrone and Donegal in Division One North, with Kerry, Galway, Dublin and Roscommon in Division One South of the National League. It is not the Division One they had aimed to be playing as the new format means that the Orchard team will miss out on playing Dublin and Kerry. 

While not ideal Hall says his team-mates want to focus on the games ahead and believes that the time has come for Armagh to be beating the so-called big guns.

“Playing all those top teams was one of our goals but that is just the situation we are in this year and we can’t dwell on it too much because we have to focus on winning the few games we have in order to stay in division one,” Hall said.

“Hopefully if we do that this year then we will be able to play those teams next year.

“The aim would be to stay up because we only have a limited number of games and I suppose if you win a couple of games, you don’t know where you are going to go. I know it’s a cliché saying it, but we really have to take one game at a time. If we don’t win our first few games, then we could be in a relegation battle. It is the top two teams, or the bottom two teams play each other so we could be in a semi-final contest or a relegation battle and they are fine margins.

The new H&H Gym at Quarter Road, Camlough. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
The new H&H Gym at Quarter Road, Camlough. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

“Having come from Division Three through Division Two there comes a time when you have to beat one of the big teams in a big game. It is only a matter of time, but we have to stay focused, and we can’t get too excited if we win one game in the league. Even if we beat Monaghan, we can’t be thinking that we are on a roll, we just have to stay focused on the next game. We need that big breakthrough game so hopefully it comes soon.”

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