LAUREN LIVING UP TO FAMILY REPUTATION
Lauren McConville comes from such a decorated Crossmaglen gaelic footballing family that it would be easy to overlook just how outstanding the 27-year-old Armagh ladies ace is in her own right.
The formidable McConville may be small in stature but she’s a proverbial giant of Armagh gaelic and now, after making the shortlist for a second year running, one of only five orangewomen in history to have received more than one national All Star nomination.
She recently picked up an Irish News Ulster All Star for a second consecutive season having made the 2022 NFL Team of Division Two at centre half back, seven years after featuring in the same ceremonial line-up as a wing forward.
Both All Star nominations have come since McConville’s successful switch to defence following a sabbatical Down Under, where she secured a championship medal in Sydney, represented New South Wales and won an award playing Aussie Rules at club level.
Lauren previously spent a summer in the United States but otherwise she has played 77 Armagh matches without ever being injured or dropped in an Orchard career which began back at the beginning of 2014, when she established herself as a starter straight away.
McConville earned an Ulster Schools All Star a decade ago as a pupil of Our Lady’s Grammar Newry, where she received an award for ‘excellent attendance’, reflecting the diligence, dedication and dependability which are among her hallmarks.
What Lauren lacks in height, she makes up for in ferocious combativeness and tenacity, an incredibly determined player who is utterly relentless and never gives up, qualities which were to the fore when she helped Ulster to an interpro title triumph in 2016.
A supreme professional who is always wonderful to deal with, McConville is intensely serious about football but also an awful lot of fun, a small woman with a big personality whose skills include composing poems and tremendous mimicry.
Unsurprisingly, she is also successful in her professional life and recently achieved First Class Honours from TUD in her Masters in Food Business Management and Technology, alongside working as Assistant Technical Manager for ABP Food Group.
Player of the Match when Armagh Minors won the 2011 All Ireland B final, her primary degree was in Food Science at Queen’s, for whom she lined out in the 2014 O’Connor Cup final as a fresher and then had the honour of captaining in her final year at the university.
At club level, a young McConville captained unfancied Crossmaglen to an Intermediate Championship and Division Two double back in 2017 and is seen by many as the obvious leadership successor to Armagh skipper Kelly Mallon when the time comes.
A very effective forward for Armagh earlier in her career, where her bustling presence, pace and deceptive power repeatedly posed problems for defenders, the impressive McConville once ran up the astonishing tally of 10-10 for Crossmaglen in a club game.
Since returning from Australia, she has played more of a deeper role in the amber and black with the precocious Alex Clarke providing the chief threat closer to goal but McConville showed against Silverbridge this autumn that she remains the jewel in Crossmaglen’s crown.
Managers Maria O’Donnell, with whom she played in the Intermediate decider defeat to Grange back in 2013, and Peter McMahon paid glowing tribute to her on the back of her first All Star nomination last season and she is a great role model for the club’s young players.
Lauren enjoyed winning the Armagh Division Two title alongside sister Aoibheann after returning from Australia in 2020 and the pair – who look quite alike with their trademark headwear – also now play for Crossmaglen in camogie having transferred from Culloville.
The elder McConville could play inter-county camogie based on ability, and would doubtless be decent at rugby, but her full focus is on football and adding to the three Ulster Senior Championships plus NFL Division Three and Division Two titles already won with Armagh.
An astute reader of the game who is physically fearless and sticks claustrophobically close to opposition forwards, Lauren looks like she actually relishes defending and has shown herself well capable of fulfilling her duties when the opposition have the ball.
When you combine that with her counter-attacking capacity from deep and good judgement regarding when to pour forward with intent, McConville is a real asset for Armagh who can help propel the Orchard county to All Ireland glory in the years ahead.
Her county footballer dad Jim McConville captained Crossmaglen to the first of their All Ireland title triumphs at club level a quarter of a century ago and famous uncle Oisin needs no introduction as a double All Star forward.
This autumn we’ve had the 20th anniversary of Armagh’s men being crowned All Ireland champions for the sole occasion in Orchard history, with Oisin McConville netting the only goal in the Croke Park showpiece win over Kerry.
Top pundit Oisin McConville is the new manager of Wicklow, while Lauren’s cousins James Morgan and the O’Neills, Oisin and Rian, have been Armagh regulars in recent years and her younger brother Cian is also part of the current county panel now.
The two O’Neill brothers were Armagh’s only men’s All Star nominees last year and Orchard captain Rian was unlucky not to be a recipient for the first time this autumn after being crowned Ulster Footballer of the Year.
A few weeks ago, rising star Cian McConville top-scored with eight points in a Player of the Match performance as Crossmaglen reclaimed the Orchard crown by beating Granemore after losing the last two county finals to Maghery and Clann Eireann respectively.
Nobody would have been more delighted for him than Lauren, who this writer recalls proudly introducing her then 17-year-old ‘wee brother’ – already towering above her – after she had captained Crossmaglen to victory in that 2017 Armagh Intermediate final replay.
Last autumn, Cian was on the losing side for Cross in the county final the day after the ladies All Stars night in Dublin at which first-time nominee Lauren was accompanied by dad Jim, mum Michelle and younger sister Aoibheann.
Just to illustrate that the sporting genes don’t all come from the McConville side of the family, Michelle lined out alongside daughters Lauren and Aoibheann when Culloville camogs won the Armagh Junior Championship back in 2014.
It’s fair to say though that the family is primarily associated with gaelic football, stretching back to Jim and Oisin’s uncle Gene Morgan playing for Armagh in the 1953 All Ireland final, and Lauren is certainly living up to the weighty expectations placed upon her.
Among McConville’s many admirers is the manager who was delighted to get her into his Armagh senior set-up nine winters ago, James Daly, and the Dromintee man has followed her career with interest and pride down through the years since.
“Obviously Lauren comes from an outstanding gaelic football family but she’s up there as a superstar in her own right. She’s a smashing girl and was always an absolute pleasure to manage whether with the county or at Queen’s or Ulster in the interpros,” he enthuses.
“There was some persuasion needed to get her to Armagh because Lauren likes to think things through and only commit if she can give 100 percent. I was delighted to get her on board because I knew her qualities and that, if she came, she’d be all-in.
“Lauren’s a quality footballer with power, pace and scoring threat, but talent alone won’t cut it at the highest level so her success comes down to ticking all those other boxes too in terms of ambition, competitiveness, doing the gym work and leaving no stone unturned.
“Right from the start with Armagh, I knew how good Lauren was and what she would give you. She always went and did what was asked, and is a real team player and very respectful but always great craic too around the environment and lifted everybody.
“She was a forward in her early years with Armagh and has recently changed to the backs but you could play Lauren anywhere – well, maybe she’d be a bit short in height to put in goals! – and she’d make sure she did a good job for the team,” declares Daly.