Clan na Gael captain Anna Murphy couldn’t contain her excitement after leading the Lurgan girls to their first championship success at adult level with a 4-15 to 2-8 win over Clonmore in Portadown.
“Words can’t describe this, we’ve been working so hard all year and honestly this is the most amazing feeling I’ve had in a really long time,” enthused the corner back, still visibly bubbling with joy as she reflected on a watershed success.
Three first half goals gave Clan na Gael a nine-point interval lead and set them on course for a deserved victory in the Buttercrane Junior Championship final on a perfect evening for football in front of an excellent crowd at Tir na nOg.
Armagh age group player Ella Reid led the way with nine points, four of them from frees, while full forward Roisin O’Hagan scored 2-2 and Orchard hero Diarmuid Marsden’s daughter Lara chipped in with 1-1.
For Clonmore’s Naomh Labhaoise there was the pain of a second successive decider defeat following the loss to Mullabrack 12 months ago but, in her post-match speech, victorious captain Murphy warmly assured the runners-up that their time will come.
This showpiece was contested by two of the newer teams in Orchard club football, with Naomh Labhaoise only in their second season of fielding and new Armagh Junior champions Clan na Gael just in their fifth year competing as an adult team.
With the exception of the incredible Brenda Loughran, remarkably lining out at the age of 53 alongside daughter Angela who won Player of the Match, Clan na Gael have a very young team too, like their opponents, and the ladies football future seems bright for the Davitt Park outfit.
Age group success in recent years has flagged up Clan na Gael as an emerging force and they were tipped to reach the final last season only to be eliminated by Clann Eireann Seconds, who later withdrew from the competition.
Because of their impressive production line of talent and formidable march to Saturday evening’s final, with emphatic margins against neighbours Eire Og and then away to Pearse Og in the semi-final, Clan na Gael came into the big game with grounds for considerable belief and this success shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“We were confident enough in our ability but were actually considered underdogs even though we were a (league) division above Clonmore so that helped ensure their couldn’t be any complacency,” says Murphy.
“Clonmore have been very dominant in Division Four, winning every game, racking up the goals in every single match and always coming out well on top so we were prepared for strong, confident, dangerous opponents.
“They also had the experience playing in the final last season, albeit losing, whereas we’d never got past the first round until this year, though that’s hard to believe when you see the performance out there today.
“Hopefully this win will be a springboard because we’ve got good numbers, a lot of emerging talent and the hunger to go on from this. I think there’s much more to come from this squad in the years ahead.
“A lot of the girls have just come up from Under 16s and we’ve the foundations to build a strong team to compete at higher levels. Tonight was a great occasion and this win will whet our appetite for further success.
“I wasn’t sure if folks would make the journey to Tir na nOg this evening but we’re really glad they all came out to support us. There was a fantastic crowd who created a brilliant atmosphere and lifting the trophy was an unforgettable feeling for me.
“Being nine up at half-time was a good position to be in but we tried to treat it as nil-nil coming into the second half and not taking anything for granted. You do your work for the first 30 minutes and do the same again and just take it as it comes.”
By her own admission a ‘rather vocal’ captain, Murphy is already looking forward to another new adventure, leading her team into a provincial championship campaign in the next few weeks.
“Playing in Ulster is a challenge that we’re definitely up for and I think we’ve the team to do the job justice,” she insisted before returning to the excited celebrations which began on the Portadown pitch and doubtless continued until late in Lurgan.
One positive on the evening was talented Armagh underage player Aoife Reid coming off the bench to score two points, while Naomh Beattie netted the fourth goal and captain Murphy’s fellow corner back Evie McGill also got on the scoresheet for a team managed by Brendan Campbell, Ben McCrory and Kevin O’Hagan.
Armagh senior panellist Sarah Quigley led the way with six points for Clonmore, four from frees, while Riona Cunningham and Tara Conlon raised gree flags and threre was one score apiece for Niamh and Aoife Forker.
Saturday evening was their first defeat of 2019 but they can celebrate that Division Four title triumph and playing a league level next season will help this team keep progressing as they hope for third time lucky.