Anticipation of Armagh SFC final at Maghery is 'unreal'
MAGHERY manager Shane McConville knows all about commitment to the club, having served his own, St Paul’s, Lurgan so well. He’s lived through the disappointment of county final defeat too.
Yet, even he is taken aback about the desire around the loughshore club to finally get their hands on the Armagh SFC trophy with the final this Sunday against Cullyhanna. Although he only took over the Sean MacDermott’s team this year, he’s fully aware of their longing for a senior triumph:
“Oh God, I can’t believe it, to tell you the God’s honest truth. ‘Townie’ teams, we have our own way of celebrating and understanding the importance of big days like this. But when you go to country areas that don’t have much else, it’s unreal," he said.
“I took them to Mass last Saturday night, just to leave ourselves the full week of sorta hiding away out of the way of things. Good God almighty, it was unbelievable, the reaction and the anticipation. You couldn’t put it into words what it would mean to Maghery.”
This year, the Sean MacDermott’s might have been celebrating 40 years since their first success – but they lost their first final to Clan na Gael. This could have been ‘25 years on’, but they were defeated in the 1991 decider by Armagh Harps. Clans then denied Maghery again in 1993.
McConville played alongside fathers of players he’s now managing with Forkers and Foxes to the fore for Maghery, so he has an affinity there. He feels the club’s pain too, recalling: “In 1989, my own club got to the county final, and I was manager then. So I’ve flirted with this day before – unfortunately it wasn’t a good day, with my own performance, and [being in] management didn’t help matters. Harps beat us by four points, there wasn’t much in it.
“I managed my own club team as a player about six times… I was still playing, believe it or not, when I managed Clans, Clan na Gael [around 2002]. Then I had four seasons with Clann Eireann, 2007 to 2011.”
His north Armagh knowledge has proved very useful this year, with wins over Annaghmore and Wolfe Tone’s – then against south Armagh’s Dromintee – before beating Clann Eireann impressively in the semi-final, 2-17 to 1-9.
Final opponents Cullyhanna slew the Crossmaglen ogre in their semi-final, and McConville acknowledges that might help Maghery’s chances: “Cross, when they got up on the Sunday morning of the county final, were probably not as nervous as their opponents.
“It just levels the playing field. I know Cullyhanna experienced the final three years ago, but Maghery have had three or four semi-finals lately and have been knocking on the door. Both teams will have to deal with the nerves factor. Maghery will still have to deal with all their nerves – the good thing is that Cullyhanna will have to do that as well.”
Aidan and Stefan Forker are the best-known current Maghery players but a former Armagh midfielder has also been hugely influential in their run to the final, says McConville: “The whole Forker contingent are massive to the team. James Lavery has really and truly come back to himself after a couple of bad injuries. I don’t know how long his twilight will last; I’m hoping for a couple of years.
“Most of these fellas have no social issues, they’re training mad and look after themselves… James is playing the football of his life, he really is.”
Victory this Sunday would make many lives complete around Maghery.