SKIPPER REEL RELISHING FRESH HONOUR
Winning a first Armagh Senior Championship with her new club back in 2018 at the age of 34 a few weeks after playing her last inter-county game in the orange jersey may have felt like a wonderful footnote to Sharon Reel’s distinguished gaelic career.
Circumstances not of her making had meant a switch from Killeavy to Carrickcruppen and Reel’s first season in red and white culminated in a showpiece win over reigning champions Clann Eireann in the Athletic Grounds decider.
But, four years on, former Orchard defender Reel will have the honour of captaining Carrickcruppen when they face Clann Eireann again at headquarters this Saturday (5pm) in the first final between the traditional rivals since then.
The established Big Two met in nine county finals in 11 seasons from 2008 but have yet to clash in a championship match this decade with Armagh Harps seeing off Cruppen in both deciders so far having knocked Clann Eireann out along the way.
However, the Lurgan giants gained revenge when dethroning Harps in last month’s second semi while Cruppen reached their 13th county final in 15 seasons with straightforward wins against fellow south Armagh sides Dromahill and Silverbridge.
“It’s probably fair to say we were on the easier side of the draw, with champions Harps and Clann Eireann in the other half, and we’ve got through to the final without too much trouble though I was expecting closer contests against Dromahill and Silverbridge.
“Although we went into those ties as favourites, they’d probably both be disappointed with how the matches went, but I suppose we deserve some credit too for how we played even though they were far from perfect performances,” reflects Reel.
“We were well off full-strength during the league, with county players absent at times, girls at university and Caroline (O’Hanlon) often away with netball but it has been good getting nearly everybody back and those couple of championship matches under our belt.”
Reel acknowledges that Carrickcruppen will go into this showpiece as underdogs but that was also the case four years ago when two stunning goals from the incomparable O’Hanlon turned the tide in their favour in the second half.
“Winning a Senior Championship medal was something I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to do, so to be welcomed into Carrickcruppen, play in that county final and be on the winning side was very special.
“I’d won Junior and Intermediate titles with Killeavy so that completed the set but, more than the medal, it’s the memories and the people you play with. Caroline and Marian (McGuinness) were already great friends and it was nice to share that success with them.
“Of course, Caroline’s name is synonymous with Carrickcruppen and she’s such an important presence in the big games, but being here has made me appreciate the influence of other club stalwarts like Aileen Doran and Megan Cinnamond to name but two.
“It’s to Cruppen’s credit that they’ve been there or thereabouts for the past decade and a half, frequently reaching county finals, and everyone’s really looking forward to being back in the Athletic Grounds for the biggest game of the domestic season.”
Although looking as fit as ever and in fantastic physical shape for her 38 years, Reel insists she has mellowed with age and is appreciating playing rather than heaping pressure on herself like might have been the case earlier in her career.
“I think the pandemic, along with getting older, has helped make me conscious of the importance of enjoying football and realising it’s just a game at the end of the day, though obviously I’m a competitive person and always want to win,” reflects Reel.
“This final feels as special as any big game I’ve been involved in and I’m genuinely excited looking forward to it. It’s a huge honour to captain the team, especially when I’ve only come here relatively late in my career rather than coming up through the ranks.
“There was no big hullabaloo about becoming captain but it means a lot because it shows how well I’ve been accepted by the girls and the club in general. We’ve experienced players and plenty of leaders on and off the field so there’s definitely no big burden of responsibility.
“I’m acutely conscious of the great rivalry between Cruppen and Clann Eireann and remember watching some memorable battles before I came here. It felt like they played each other every year but the clubs haven’t met in the final for a while now.
“I know what the Marie Hoye Cup means to them so they’ll be desperate to get it back but we haven’t had it for four years either. I’ve good friends on the Clann Eireann team but there are no friendships on the field and we’ll all be fighting hard to win.
“They beat us easily enough in the league games and people will expect them to win but that whole thing of favourites and underdogs has never meant much to me. We’ll look to go there, giving a good account of ourselves and see what happens,” insists Reel.