GAA Football

1991 hero John Toner hoping to lead Armagh Harps to victory over Maghery in final

Armagh Harps manager John Toner (back row, right) pictured with former player Frank McKenna (second from left) and players and supporters at the announcement of McKenna's Bar, Armagh as senior team sponsors

IT WAS Johnny Corvan who set John Toner up for the winner when Armagh Harps beat Maghery back in 1991.

That victory landed the Cathedral City outfit their second Armagh senior championship in three years after they had seen off Lurgan’s St Paul’s two years’ previously.

Toner marked Shane McConville, the current Maghery manager, in that game but success has eluded the Harps since that all-too-brief golden era and tomorrow they hope to end a 26-year drought that has included four lost finals.

“When you’re playing football your think, ‘och, we’ll win it again next year’,” Toner, now in his fourth year as Harps manager, reflected.

“But all of a sudden it’s 10 years, 20 years…

“When we won it in 1989 it was after a gap of 31 years and we said ‘that’ll not happen again’ but it’s coming round to that again. We’ve been in four finals since in between and never won it, but that’s football.”

Former Armagh star Toner steered his club to county finals in 2014 and 2015 but they ran into the county’s immovable object – Crossmaglen Rangers – and came off second best.

Whether Cross have slipped, or Maghery have surpassed them, or a bit of both, the south Armagh outfit have lost their monopoly on the Gerry Fagan Cup.

“Cross are out of the picture, but Maghery are the current champions and they’ve beat them twice in the one season in the championship,” Toner said.

“They proved the first day wasn’t luck, so they’re the best team in the county at the minute and we’re under no illusions about them. They are well organised, they set up very well defensively and they have a very strong midfield – as good a midfield as there is around with James Lavery and Ben Crealey, two big lads and two very good footballers.

“Then they have the Forkers (Aidan, Stefan and Seamus) in the forward line, so they are a good, balanced all-round team.”

He added: “Everybody has Maghery favourites and they’re saying ‘if Maghery turns up and play well they’ll win’. The bookies have them favourites and we’re happy enough with that.

“They’re a good team but we have confidence in our own ability and we know the work we’ve put in this year, on and off the field. The players have trained extremely hard and they believe in their own ability and if they perform on the day it will give us a chance.”

Harps are backboned by Armagh goalkeeper Paddy Morrison, full-back Charlie Vernon “a good man at steadying the ship” and 2009 All-Ireland minor-winning skipper Declan McKenna, but the majority of the players are still well short of reaching their peak.

The two finals against Cross ended in 17 and then 18-point hammerings, but Toner is confident that his players have matured over the last two seasons.

“We’re a bit more calm now,” he says.

“We probably got those finals earlier than we anticipated. The bulk of our players would be 26 or under, so we went into those finals with a very young team. Some of the lads have grown up since and they’ve matured.

“They are better for it, they have a better grasp of what’s required and they have a better outlook on life so all those things will help us.”

 

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