One of Armagh’s youngest clubs St. Paul’s, Lurgan will attempt to bridge a 30 year gap when they travel to the Athletic Grounds on Sunday to face favourites Grange in the Intermediate Championship final.
Formed in the early 70s with the aim to provide sporting opportunities to the new generation who had taken residence in the sprawling Taghnevan Estate, St. Paul’s won the Intermediate title back in 1984 following a Junior title two years earlier, a scenario which was to signal improvement leading to two Division 1 titles and appearances in Senior Championship finals in a decade where several of their players lined out in County colours.
Many clubs have difficulty in balancing ambitious development strategies in tandem with successful participation on the field of play, but St. Paul’s have managed both scenarios in a highly successful manner, their state of the art facilities at Monbrief are the envy of many clubs in the County.
The Lurgan side, who are thriving at youth level and were crowned Division 2 champions recently are aiming for an historic double on Sunday against a Grange side which will enter the game holding the favourites mantle.
Showing a high level of consistency the Taghnevan side have carefully balanced both their league and championship campaigns this season. They were made to fight all the way to overcome Clan na Gael in their cup opener, a game which could have gone either way. The Saints had a single point to spare against Middletown in the next round and Shane McConville’s side I certainly came of age in their recent semi-final win against Forkhill having to fight back from a six points deficit at the break.
St. Paul’s current success can be traced to many years of sterling work at youth level.
Undertaken by a variety of coaches at the Lurgan club, Shane McConville who is a fervent team manger and is ably by Gerry Headley and Finty McConville had spells in management with both Clann Éireann and Clan na Gael, has reshaped his current team into a well organised outfit which is built on fitness, commitment and a tackling strategy aimed solely at the ball.
Recently the Lurgan side welcomed back their former captain Ciaran Nash from injury, and although the backbone of their side would be supplied by Andrew Murnan, Niall McPartland and Armagh player Phelim O’Neill, the experienced Michael Shanks, Darra Toal who will line out in the centre of defence and Ryan Lawless are players who will all have a major say in Sunday’s final .
St. Paul’s opponents Grange have class and experience in all areas of their team, centre forward Micheal McKenna was highly impressive against Clann Éireann in the semi-final.
The Mid-Armagh side are particularly strong around the middle where Colm Nugent and Armagh Ethan Rafferty will line out against St. Paul’s pairing of Chris Lavery and Phelim O’Neill.
Shane McConville’s sides sublime second half performance against Forkhill have given St. Paul’s supporters confidence entering the decider, the Lurgan sides fitness in unquestioned, as is their dogged determination, a very close game is expected with the margins even closer.