GAA Football

Maghery manager Shane McConville sets sights on Ulster club championship title

Maghery won their first ever Armagh title when they defeated Cullyhanna in this month's final at the Athletic Grounds 

CLUBS entering the Ulster arena for the first time ever usually talk about ‘bonus territory’, but Maghery boss Shane McConville is setting his sights on the winners’ podium.

The Séamus McFerran Cup has gone back to the Orchard county more often than not over the past two decades, although that has been all about the amazing achievements of Crossmaglen Rangers.

The south Armagh side have won all 11 Ulster finals that they have reached, from their first in 1996 to their most recent last year, when they defeated Scotstown of Monaghan. Few will hold out much hope of Maghery Sean MacDermott’s bringing the trophy back to county Armagh but their manager views matters differently.

Avoiding the usual approach of playing down his team’s chances, St Paul’s, Lurgan clubman McConville insists that they are seeking to emulate the mighty Rangers: “We have to give credit to Crossmaglen and all their achievements in Ulster and the All-Ireland series," he said.

“It would be remiss of us if we didn’t go and give Ulster every single effort that we can. Any club coming out of Armagh would be feared - so if Crossmaglen didn’t come out, then the team that did obviously has to be feared. That’s our approach to it: we’ll be going to win an Ulster title, simple as that.”

It’s 13 years since any club won Ulster in its debut campaign, when the Loup did so under the astute management of Malachy O’Rourke. The challenge for Maghery commences this Sunday against new Cavan champions Ramor United, who are effectively in Ulster for the first time too as their last county triumph was way back in 1992.

Indeed, it’s a fairly open provincial scene, with three-in-a-row Derry champions Slaughtneil the only previous winners involved, having taken the title in 2014. Down kingpins Kilcoo reached the 2012 Ulster Final while Donegal representatives Glenswilly got to the provincial decider the following year but otherwise there is little Ulster experience among this year’s participants.

Maghery captain James Lavery was relaxed about the Ulster involvement after their historic first ever Armagh success, the club having lost five previous finals: “We can all now start enjoying our football now. The pressure is off, it’ll be a good experience, something we’re looking forward to and we’ll just give it a go,” he said.

However, perhaps with the confidence of youth, young centre half-back Ciaran Higgins - who scored the final’s decisive goal against Crossmaglen’s conquerors Cullyhanna -  was much more upbeat about their provincial involvement, saying: “We can’t wait to get going in Ulster. It’s new to us but we’re very confident in ourselves and we aim to take our chance when it comes."

Maghery are hopeful that corner-back Kevin Nugent, who went off in the county final with a knock, will be fit for selection this Sunday, but manager McConville has confidence in their strength in depth, saying: “Maghery have a bench which has six, seven, eight players who could start and you couldn’t argue with any of them being involved.”

Aidan and Stefan Forker are the current Armagh players in the Maghery set-up, and both operate effectively in attack for their club. Injuries curtailed Lavery’s involvement with his county in recent years, but his midfield partner Ben Crealey looks one for the future, as does Higgins.

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