September 11th, 2020

Richard Bullick

Caoimhe Morgan readily admits that her past, present and future are all inextricably linked with the Ballyhegan club, but the former Armagh ladies gaelic captain will be doing her best to deny the Davitts silverware this weekend.

The 37-year-old is part of the Lissummon side, captained by her younger sister Niamh Marley and featuring two other siblings, Sarah and Catherine, set to take on Ballyhegan in Sunday’s Buttercrane Intermediate Championship final in Keady on Sunday (1pm).

Armagh great Morgan hung up her boots in January a remarkable 21 seasons after her Orchard debut but has come out of retirement to help Lissummon’s bid to emulate their 2015 Intermediate title triumph in this specially condensed domestic season.

On that occasion, she had to wrestle with the dilemma of whether to play while 12 weeks pregnant, but took the field and kept enough tabs on Shane O’Neills scoring machine Aimee Mackin to enable Lissummon to pull off a miracle comeback win.

Five years on, the fiercely-competitive Morgan is keen to add another championship medal to her collection of honours, though in an ideal world it wouldn’t be at the expense of a club she has such close connections to.

Her dad Noel Marley, one of the Orchard heroes from the county’s run to the 1977 All Ireland final, was a Ballyhegan great who won an Intermediate title with them, and her younger brother Paddy captained the club to their 2017 Armagh Junior Championship success.

Caoimhe herself started her club career with Ballyhegan, playing for them against Grange in the 2001 Armagh Junior Championship final which went to a second replay, before switching to Lissummon nearer the Marley family home at Mullabrack.

However, although still playing for Lissummon, the former All Star defender has been back living not far from Ballyhegan having married Comghall Morgan, a dedicated Davitt who has held various prominent positions in the club and now coaches kids there.

The couple’s daughter Cadhla (7) and son Daire (4) have both started their gaelic footballing journeys at Ballyhegan, and St Catherine’s College PE teacher Caoimhe herself is involved in underage coaching at the club alongside a fellow former Armagh great.

“I help Paul McGrane coach the Under 14 girls though at times they train with the Under 16s, so I’ve worked with some of the Ballyhegan panel for the final, but of course I’ve also taken a lot of them for football at school,” she explains.

If as expected she lines out at centre half back on Sunday, Caoimhe is likely to be directly up against one of her pupils, 16-year-old Caitlin McCormack, a real rising star who told the Gazette last year how much she admires Mrs Morgan, and the feeling is mutual.

Caitlin’s mum Brenda and aunt Catherine played alongside Caoimhe in that Ballyhegan Junior Championship final team 19 years ago, and Morgan rolls her eyes at the thought of being older than the former, who will be lining out with her daughter this weekend.

“It’s strange how things have worked out in terms of facing Ballyhegan, but this is no normal year.  Coronavirus has given everyone a bit of perspective and it’s great to be back playing football.  I think it will be a great game on Sunday, played in the right spirit,” says Caoimhe.

“I’ve a lot of time for the Ballyhegan girls, actually taught their captain Eve Lavery years ago, and the club will be a big part of my life going forward, but Lissummon means a lot to me and it would be special to win another championship playing with my sisters.”

Due to a holiday in Donegal and several league games being postponed, Morgan has played just three times this year but feels she is getting into her stride and is also full of praise for the new Lissummon manager, Gene O’Callaghan.

“Gene has brought a level of professionalism you’d expect from a Crossmaglen football man,” says Caoimhe, who captained Lissummon to their 2006 Armagh Junior title triumph, the club’s only championship success until five years ago.

Sister Niamh, Player of the Match against Shane O’Neills in that 2015 win, will hope to become the third Marley sibling to captain a championship-winning club team after Caoimhe and Paddy, but the first at Intermediate level.

Sunday’s decider has an early start to avoid a direct clash with the men’s county final (4pm) in which Ballyhegan skipper Eve’s brother David will captain Maghery against a Crossmaglen side featuring Lissummon manager Gene’s son Dara O’Callaghan in the Athletic Grounds!

Meanwhile, in Saturday evening’s Buttercrane Senior Championship showpiece at the same venue (6.30pm), Armagh Harps ladies will be aiming to claim their first county title this century when they take on Carrickcruppen.

Evergreen goalkeeper Paula Enright, the only survivor from the last Harps success in 1998, is hoping to be fit for the big game in spite of pulling her hamstring in the first quarter of the semi-final win against Shane O’Neills.

Carrickcruppen are aiming for a fifth title in 11 seasons since becoming Orchard champions for the first time in 2010 and, a decade on, the same manager Michael Heeney and captain Caroline O’Hanlon are back in those roles.

However, having toppled holders Clann Eireann with a superb performance in the quarter-finals and come through that epic encounter against Shane O’Neills in spite of adversity, Harps are determined to end their 22-year famine.

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