Clann Eireann face Maghery in Armagh Senior Championship quarter-final
RYAN Henderson was 16 when he first took the field for Clann Eireann at senior level and, 20 years later, he’s still going strong.
The last two decades have also included games and goals for Armagh, Donegal Celtic and Linfield and Henderson will lead the line tonight as the Lurgan outfit attempt to topple reigning champions Maghery at the Athletic Grounds.
Tonight’s game is a rematch of the 2020 meeting between the north Armagh rivals at the same stage which Maghery won by a point after extra-time on their way to the second senior championship in their history. Clann Eireann have two titles as well but the last of those was back in 1963 and Henderson concedes that his club have it all to do if they’re to add a third this year
“Last year we probably just lacked the experience to get over the line and it was one that got away,” he said.
Alongside Henderson (scorer of four goals against Wexford back in 2009), Tommy Coleman’s Clann Eireann include two of the Orchard county’s brightest young talents in Conor Turbitt and Tiernan Kelly - both Ulster Championship goal-scorers for Armagh last season. With the quality of Barry McCambridge and Shea Heffron in defence, they forced promotion to the top flight after finishing runners-up in the intermediate league and go into tonight’s game on the back of a 3-17 to 0-14 win over Grange in round one. Turbitt, Dan McCarthy and Oran McCafferty all hit the Grange net in that game and Maghery boss Finnian Moriarty will be well aware of the goal threat Clann Eireann pose.
His side were short of their best against Armagh Harps but did enough to win which is all that counts in round one. Brian Fox got the goal and Moriarty can rely on him and the tried and tested talents of Aidan and Stefan Forker in attack and the likes of Brian McIlmurray, Oisin Lappin and Stefan Cusack at the back. The midfield pairing of Ben Crealey and James Lavery can always be relied upon to grab primary possession and Clann Eireann will have to find a way around them tonight.
“We had an up and down league,” said Henderson.
“We played well at times and we had some bad defeats as well. We’ve been inconsistent so the form isn’t brilliant going into this game but it’s not bad either.”
He added: “Maghery have been up there as the best team in Armagh for the last 10 years.
“They won league titles – their championships didn’t come out of nowhere. The form was there and when they look back in years to come they’ll realise that this is a special bunch of players.
“I know a few of them and I know how good they are, I don’t think I’ve ever beat them in the championship so we know what we're up against and there’s a lot of respect there for what they’ve done.”
It’s a surprise that, in 20 years, Henderson has come up against Maghery just twice in the championship and both games ended in one-point defeats.
“We’ve had good battles with them and we’ll take confidence from last year’s game,” he said.
“It’s daunting playing a Division One team, especially the county champions. We’ll be looking to go one step further but we know we’re up against it and it’ll take a massive effort to topple them.
“They are streetwise and they know what we’re going to bring to the table and they’ll set up accordingly. They’re probably the smartest team in Armagh but we’ll give it a go and see where it takes us.”