Clann Éireann to go head-to-head with Maghery in Armagh SFC semi-final
IN AN all-north Armagh clash, Maghery and Clann Éireann meet at the Athletic Grounds on Friday (8.30pm) for a place in the county final.
Maghery have never got their hands on the prize, while Clann Éireann have to go back to 1963 for their last success. There is a strong feeling by the lough shore that Sean McDermott’s are on the cusp of making history and, while they haven't been overly impressive in this year’s campaign, they have reached this stage on merit, seeing off neighbours Annaghmore, Wolfe Tone's and Dromintee along the way.
Managed by former county player Shane McConville, the squad is quietly confident they can do it this time. They have a strong and experienced panel and newcomer Ben Crealey is teaming up formidably at midfield with captain and former county player James Lavery, who is again having an excellent season.
Defensively sound as well, with the likes of Kevin Nugent, Ciaran Higgins, Oisín Lappin and David Lavery, Maghery are not in the habit of leaking goals, though Dromintee bagged two against them at the quarter-final stage.
Stefan and Aidan Forker, who missed the round two game against Wolfe Tone's, were back for the quarter-final, adding extra bite to an attack in which Conor Mackle, Stephen Cusack, Paul and Séamus Forker, Jack Lavery and Ronan Lappin score regularly. In the absence of free-taker Aidan Forker, Cusack pocketed 0-7 against Wolfe Tone's and his penalty goal against Dromintee put that one to bed.
Managed by Kieran Robinson and captained by Conor Bell, Clann Éireann are beginning to reap the benefits of a successful underage policy and winning the all-county league section B was the ideal preparation for the championship.
In their opening game against Madden, they were 13 points clear approaching half-time, but began losing their shape, conceding three goals. In the end, it took late scores from classy attacker Chris McCafferty and Adam Kelly to get them over the line.
Next day out against Ballymacnab, it was the Lake Street outfit’s turn to score goals and four majors, including two from top marksman Barry Seeley, created a surprise result, sending them through to the quarter-finals, with Ballymacnab once more the opposition.
A game played in horrible weather conditions had three red cards harshly issued in the opening 20 minutes, the Round Towers picking up two of them. Clann Éireann were able to make use of their numerical advantage, though they had to survive a late rally in which Ballymacnab were denied an injury-time equaliser by the woodwork. They will be hoping to have Heffron’s red card rescinded as he would be a huge loss.
The Lurgan side have probably three of the best up-and-coming defenders in the county, the potential of Heffron, Barry McCambridge and Ryan Owens having already caught the eye of Orchard supremo Kieran McGeeney.
In the middle of the park, former county star Ryan Henderson and Mark Beattie are having a fine season. Barry Seeley is a reliable free-taker and along with him in the half-forward line, Jack Wilson and Chris McCafferty have been consistently chipping in with scores. Target man Paul McKenna is central to the team’s attacking strategy, the go-to man who has the knack of taking and creating scores.
Maghery should have the both the hunger and edge in experience to make it to the final, though in no way will Clann Éireann be overawed by the challenge. This is a team enjoying their football, a club steeped in GAA history and, while they have struggled through a barren spell since all those county final appearances in the late 1950s and early '60s, they are once again a force to be reckoned with.
This semi-final has all the ingredients for a highly-entertaining hour of end-to-end attacking football, with both teams convinced they can do it.