Maghery's Johnny Montgomery revelling in Armagh County Championship success
EVEN though he’s not as old as the county final programme suggested (42, rather than 44) Johnny Montgomery’s involvement with Maghery is still rather remarkable.
Although he may appear to be a ‘veteran’, the goalkeeper for the new Armagh SFC champions only came to Gaelic football less than a decade ago.
In one sense Montgomery didn’t have far to come, but he had to cross a county border as well as cross codes.
Hailing from Killyman, across the River Blackwater in Tyrone, he’s much better known for soccer, mostly with Dungannon Swifts but also with Glenavon. What’s more, he was almost always a centre half in the 11-a-side game.
Yet as a talented goalkeeper from his youth, he was occasionally called on to don the gloves in emergencies for the Swifts, and never hesitated to show his ability between the posts.
The fearsomely powerful shot he possessed from long range, and especially from dead balls, no doubt helped with his kick-outs as a GAA goalkeeper, although he admits there was a period of adjustment:
“It took me a while to get used to it, I made my fair share of mistakes and still do, but I came on to it and hopefully I fill a gap for them.”
He does much more than that, according to Maghery captain James Lavery: “He played centre-back for Dungannon Swifts and a few of our boys played with him, and they brought him down to us about seven years ago.
“He’s done nets and he’s one of the most important players on our team now. He’s in serious shape.”
As Lavery said, Maghery men have played their parts for the Swifts, and Johnny fleshes out how his involvement with the lough shore club came about:
“I’ve been involved seven or eight years, since Jimmy Robinson asked me to come down to pull them out. I’m still there anyway. I enjoy every minute of it, they’re good lads…
“The Forkers, Conor, Stefan Cusack, Jimmy and ‘Dixie’ Robinson have all been at the Swifts – I’m going back a bit, unfortunately I’m a bit older than the rest of them. I know a lot of the Maghery boys. ‘Jimbo’ asked me to help out and I had no hesitation.”
Yet although there are teenage team-mates w ho have been around the Sean MacDermott’s club longer than him, his delight at helping them to a first ever Orchard county senior crown was evident.
“It’s beyond real,” he said of the celebrations that ensued at the Athletic Grounds after Sunday’s victory over St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna.
“Looking round that pitch, I didn’t realise there were as many people in Maghery.”
Having lost four previous Armagh senior finals, Maghery were always going to have to work hard to break their duck, especially as Cullyhanna were also seeking a maiden triumph, and so it proved as Montgomery recalled:
“It was unbelievable. The last five minutes was a bit hectic, they put us under pressure, and the final whistle couldn’t come quick enough.”
Having confidently punched clear and caught a couple of high balls that Cullyhanna sent into his ‘square’, his only really worrying moment came in added time at the end.
A low shot from corner-forward Aidan Nugent was heading towards the bottom corner only for experienced corner-back Gerard Campbell to appear and hack it clear.
“You need a wee bit of luck too, that’s the thing that wins games,” recalled Johnny with a smile.
In truth, Maghery were good value for their victory and can now size up their Ulster opponents as Castlerahan and Ramor United meet in the delayed Cavan SFC Final replay this Sunday.
With a fortnight to recover from their exertions during and after the county final, Montgomery is confident that Maghery will give a good account of themselves in provincial combat:
“We have a chance against anybody. If we go out and play well we’ll not be far away.”
“We can go into Ulster with no pressure, we’ve done what we set out to do. After that it’s a case of see how far you can go and who knows? Go out and express yourselves, and who knows where you go?”
Johnny Montgomery is proof of that.