Former Armagh , Ulster and Clan na Gael captain Jimmy Smyth says Crossmaglen Rangers won’t be easy to shift from their perch at the top of Armagh football despite the fact teams like Clann Eireann are showing exceptional improvement at youth level.
The Lurgan school teacher who saw many of the current Clann Eireann squad perform at St. Paul’s Junior High School before they moved on to St. Michaels Grammar (St. Ronan’s), was part of a Clan na Gael side who like their north Lurgan neighbours built on success at under age level before attempting to dominate at senior level.
Jimmy, who can look back on his glorious past with the Francis Street club and fondly remembers the blues winning Minor titles in 1965, 1966 and 1967 before going on to dominate the Senior Championship competition, believes the Clann Eireann club are in a better position now than when they reached their pinnacle at the end of the 70s.
In a frank assertion he said, “Possibly in our day we held on to the old hands too long, although it is always difficult to change a winning formula rather than blooding new players.
“ Look at Crossmaglen and how they do this, however, it should also be said that a winning team should always have a back bone of older players and several younger players who are willing to run the hard miles.”
The success of Clann Eireann youth sides over the past number of seasons has been difficult to ignore, they had four players on last years Armagh minor panel and saw one of the County’s most highly rated players Shay Heffron make his senior debut last week in the O’Fiaich Cup.
Although many observers would suggest the young Clann Eireann players who have beaten Cross teams many times in the past will eventually overhaul the Armagh champions in domestic competitions Jimmy believes that Rangers won’t be easily shifted.
“With all top teams it is all about the belief that winning brings, playing in a higher league will let Clann Eireann know exactly where they are,” he added.
“Although Cross are forming a new dynasty, someone will eventually beat them and why should it not be Clann Eireann.”
When Jimmy was moving through the youth ranks with the Clans, it was claimed that the blues senior boss Brian Seeley could blow a whistle to summon his players for games considering the big number of his charges were from the Shankill area, but according to the former All Star numbers don’t always guarantee success.
“The big population which Clann Eireann are enjoying at the moment is certainly a big help to them as it was to us. We had a big pick from the Shankill Estate, the Taghnevan area has certainly helped St. Paul’s, but there is no guarantee with big numbers, the secret is all about maximising your resources.”
Jimmy however stressed that the North Lurgan club may have an advantage over Crossmaglen which many other clubs are lacking.
“When you play a team and beat them on a regular basis at youth level you move through to the Senior ranks with no fear of their reputation.
“ The young Clann Eireann players will be looking at Cross as just another team, take the example of the top Monaghan clubs, they have no fear of what they would describe as their neighbours children.”
Although Jimmy didn’t attend St. Paul’s Junior High as a pupil, he would be well aware of the contribution made by the school’s gaelic coach Harry Hoye who shaped the futures of many players including Clan na Gael stars who were to reach the pinnacle of their careers in the famous blue jersey.
Some observers who may stress that Cross have no peers in Armagh football may be swayed by the confidence shown by people at Clann Eireann like Mark Beattie and Seamus McConville, and although neither would be easily impressed, they have a further advocate in a former Armagh skipper who following an historic recent Ulster title success for the Shore Road club, is stressing his North Lurgan rivals may now have youngsters who are ‘a little bit special.’
Clanns Mark Beattie echoed the words recently of Rangers boss Oisin McConville who said, “The young lads have inspired us, they have so much energy. We owe it to them to keep the dream alive.”