WITH Crossmaglen continuing to dominate the senior championship in both Armagh and in Ulster, the rest of the clubs in the county were once again forced to set their sights a lot lower.
On the local scene there were a number of success stories. Maghery got their reward for consistency when they won the first division title for the first time in 19 years, St Peter’s and St Paul’s were both promoted and Eire Óg’s league season, at the end of 2012, would have to be viewed as a major success.
In division one Sarsfields survived without being put under too much pressure, but the fortunes of Clan na Gael, Wolfe tones and Clann Éireann were less rewarding and all three were relegated to the second division. While all three divisions in Armagh saw the top two sides playing off for the various titles, ironically the sides that finished top in each section namely Maghery, Shane O’Neill’s and An Portmór were all crowned champions - a scenario which was widely welcomed. With few challenges forthcoming this week from the Armagh convention surrounding the new three tier league structure, the county even suggested that the leagues lost their way midway through the season. The status quo, with minimal changes, should be in place next season. So can local clubs look forward to the new season with optimism and look back on 2012 with pride or discontent? This is the Mail’s assessment of how local clubs performed in 2012.
THE Tones struggled from start to finish in the first division; they were promoted in 2011 along with Clann Éireann, but won just one game from 22 this year (the sole victory coming against Granemore). The ‘Cash side have some very fine players, such as Finnian Morarity, Ruairi McCaughley James Lavery, Ryan McQuillan and James Martin who, along with a host of others, showed great commitment in the intermediate championship. While defensively decent, the Tones for the majority of the season, lacked real punch up front and experience on the bench.
The Tones are on the development front making great strides and are buzzing at youth level. While competing in the senior championship and first division, survival would be beyond them for the foreseeable future. They are still capable of a decent finishing place in division two and can compete with most teams in the intermediate series. The Derrymacash men would have been glad to see the back of 2012, but can regroup to finish in the top half of the second flight next season. In fairness to the Tones, they were missing several players in the later stages of this season’s championship when they lost in a semi-final replay against st Peters. A slot in division 2 would be a comforting realisation for them in 2013.
CLANN Éireann’s survival in the top flight was immediately in jeopardy when Ryan Henderson moved from Cliftonville to Linfield. The Lurgan man played just one game for his club this season ironically in the first match of the season against Clan na Gael. Henderson’s scoring feats were the main reason why the Clann’s won division two in 2011. The Shore Road outfit have been very proactive at youth level over the past number of years which could pay dividends over the coming seasons. Like several other clubs, Clann Éireann could be too good for division one and not good enough for division one. And therein lies the problem, with Mickey shanks moving to St Paul’s, the retirement of Steven McAreavey and, with Ryan Henderson missing, they were always going to struggle in the top flight. New senior players like Chris McCafferty and Brendan McCarron have been supplementing the leadership shown by the ageless Mark Beattie who could again be the driving force in 2013. Despite getting off to a great start with three wins in their first three league games, Clann Éireann’s fortunes plummeted towards the end of the season. Whether they would have the hunger to push for promotion again remains to be seen.
Clan na Gael
WITH the programme of rebuilding on and off the field continuing at Davitt Park, the Clans, who were relegated this season, would be strong favourites to gain promotion in 2013.
It is 18 years since the blues won a senior championship - a scenario which would have been unthinkable a number of years ago. The Lurgan club, if they remain in the second flight at the end of next season, will automatically face intermediate championship status, which, in fairness, may be no bad thing for their young side. Maghery, Killeavey and Sarsfields have all benefited from a stint in the series which can build a winning mentality. In 2012, the Clans lost a lot of games by a narrow margin and were caught on the line in games when they looked likely winners.
They had a lot more shape than in previous years with the return of Barry O’Hagan, but despite improving from their 2011 meeting with Ballymacnab, were beaten in the championship by the mid Armagh team. Again a lot will depend next year on the availability of their county panellist Stefan Campbell. The Clans had a decent Under 21 team this season and it was a major surprise when they were beaten in the first round of the competition. With the league structures remaining in their current format, the Clans, who came straight up following their relegation in 2004, should have high hopes of returning to top flight football in 2013; it could be a struggle though.
THE Derrytrasna men survived in the top flight this season with a bit more ease than in previous years, they finished off the year with a division one shield win and, with their manager Gerard Skelton in place for another season, they should be good enough to consolidate their first division status in 2013. The Hoops were left deflated, however, by their championship exit at the hands of Carrickcruppin following a replay. While it would be some of their marquee forwards who would receive most of the plaudits some of their defenders including Kieran McAlinden and Johnny Niblock had outstanding seasons. Their keeper and county panellist Darren McAvoy also stood out and Michael Stevenson’s early season form drew the attention of the Armagh management.
The Hoops, however, would need to blood a player in the style of Mark Reynolds, who has been invaluable to them for many years. But with new youth structures set in place at the club, several candidates for Reynolds role could step forward. Sarsfields have come a long way since they were forced to play division three football a number of years ago, but do they have the ambition to progress even to the level which Maghery have reached in their league campaigns? Described as a team who enjoy ‘top of the ground’ conditions, the Sarsfields had their fair share of injuries towards the end of last season, with a full squad a mid table place would be within their reach in 2013.
IT is difficult to find much wrong with the Whites at the minute. In 2012 they reached the Intermediate Championship final and secured promotion to division 1. An outstanding league fixture, however, against Middletown effectively deprived them of the chance to challenge Shane O’Neill’s for the division two title. Gaining promotion in consecutive seasons, particularly considering the competitiveness of this year’s second flight, has been a major plus for this young St Peter’s side, despite lacking the craft and experience of Killeavey in this season’s championship final. With better decision making they could have run the Steven McDonnell powered side a lot closer. It took the Whites two games to overcome Wolfe tones in the championship semi, but great wins over Silverbridge and Shane O’Neills in previous rounds suggested that the young side were coming of age. The Whites have a big panel and recently have had representation on county minor teams including Niall McConville, Aaron Findin and Sean O’Neill, not to mention, Sam Marshall and Robbie Geary who have stepped up to the mark this season and their manager Steven McVeigh will no doubt be giving his players self belief in 2013.
AT the start of the year some St Paul’s supporters were expecting their team to, at best, finish in mid-table considering the competitive nature of the second division. The Saints, however, as it turned out were just seconds away from winning the second division title. One of their best performances of the season came against title winners Shane O’Neill’s in the playoff at Clann Éireann Park, a fixture which they fulfilled without several players including Andrew Murnan. Saint’s manager Shane McConville has brought the same vigour into management as he did when wearing his club and county jersey. He has already prepared his players for what will be a tough assignment in 2013, but he believes that securing promotion was the right thing for the squad.
Over the past number of years St Paul’s have delicately balanced their duties on the field of play with redevelopment work, which has proved fruitful on both fronts.
A proactive youth strategy has reaped rewards and forty years after their formation the Teghnevan Club can look to the future with confidence. The Lurgan men can look forward without fear to derby game in 2013 against Wolfe Tones, Clan na Gael and Clan Éireann, wether their form will continue to improve remains to be seen. If they trust their committed manager nothing could be ruled out
WHILE it would be unfair to underestimate the achievements of St Peter’s and St Paul’s this season, Éire Og’s progression over the past two years has been staggering. The Ogs finished under their former management pairing of Mickey Devlin and Oliver Cormican. The Pinebank clubs recent success, however, can also be traced to strong leadership from their clubs officials who took dramatic steps during times of crisis. Recently however, the club has been rocked with the news that their management are moving on.
Éire Og’s success could be gaged on the big numbers attending training and on the way they brought so called ‘fringe’ players into the fold. Other coaches and managers have been at times secretly enquiring into the methods used by the former Og’s managers who took their players to a new level. Devlin and Cormican will be a hard act to follow, but the former has stated that the players at Pinebank have the maturity to move to a higher level.