December 7th, 2022


Richard Bullick

Crossmaglen’s Lauren McConville completed a fantastic family hat-trick in the space of 24 hours by being crowned County Player of the Year at the Carrickdale Hotel on Friday night as Armagh ladies gaelic celebrated a successful season for its representative teams.

At the Armagh GAA awards in Newry’s Canal Court the night before, her cousin Rian O’Neill had been named men’s County Player of the Year while Lauren’s younger brother Cian McConville picked up Clubs Player of the Year.

Shortlisted for the national All Stars for a second consecutive season, 27-year-old converted centre half back Lauren edged prolific forward Aimee Mackin, who made an appearance via video-link live from Australia, for the top prize.

The evening was made especially memorable by the fact that all four Orchard county teams were celebrating winning silverware this season, when the Under 14s were crowned provincial champions and the senior team made it three in a row.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no official celebration of Armagh’s 2020 and 2021 triumphs had been possible so this was a night to treasure and there will be a separate awards dinner next month showcasing achievements in the club season just gone.

Meanwhile, the county’s Under 16s and Minors both won subsidiary Ulster titles, earning Armagh promotion back to the top tier in those age groups for the 2023 season, with the former going on to win the All Ireland C Championship.

There was a nice balance between acknowledging the achievements of the four county teams and hearing from an impressive array of guest speakers including the ‘No Limbs No Limits’ campaigning journalist Joanne O’Riordan of the Irish Times.

The legendary Jarlath Burns, surely the perfect choice for GAA President next time around, spoke with great warmth about his admiration for ladies football while Armagh GAA Chairperson Mickey Savage admitted to being jealous of the trophy haul!

Ulster LGFA President Gerry Doherty attends many events in his official capacity but this one so close to home must surely have meant more than most to the diplomatic Mullaghbawn man and you’d go a long way to beat a Carrickdale dinner.

There were heartfelt tributes to each other by Armagh LGFA Chairperson Sinead Reel and Orchard captain Kelly Mallon, two women who have been so instrumental in the sport reaching fresh heights on and off the field in this county.

The managers of the Armagh age group teams each had turns at the podium to praise their squads and there were particularly powerful words from Minors boss Ger Reid who said working with the girls had meant as much as his own (impressive) playing career.

Captain fantastic Mallon, the first woman to have led Armagh to three Ulster titles, spoke on behalf of the senior squad and promised that the hard work would continue in the lead-up to the 2023 campaign, though only after a night of well-earned celebration!

Minors captain Caitlin McCormack was a worthy and popular recipient of that team’s Player of the Year award as she continues to honour the memory of dad Aaron who sadly died in October aged just 36.

Laura Kavanagh was runner-up at Minors level, with Ciara Carr coming second to Erin Murphy for the Under 16s and Ella Owens winning Under 14 Player of the Year with Caoimhe Gollogly also recognised.

Barry McAuley was announced as the winner of the Ann Daly Volunteer of the Year award to raucous applause from the senior squad before DJ Jo Mac took over and the irrepressible Reel showed she could mix it with the young ones on the dance floor!

The 43-year-old was returned unopposed for a sixth year as Chairperson at last Tuesday’s Armagh LGFA AGM while it has also been announced in recent days that the 2023 ladies NFL will revert to its traditional format of seven rounds of regular league games.

Beaten by Kerry in last season’s Division Two final in Croke Park, Armagh will launch their sixth attempt to secure a return to the top flight with a trip to Cavan on January 22 in what will be new manager Shane McCormack’s first match in charge.

Preparations are well underway and, having missed out on her brother’s big night due to training, Lauren McConville says the celebration of last season’s success will simply spur the players on to leave no stone unturned in the quest for glory in 2023.

“It has been a lovely evening, everyone coming together again after the pandemic disruption and it’s nice that all our county teams can celebrate together.  We were delighted to retain the Ulster title but there’s still a real hunger in the squad to push on next season.

“National League promotion has eluded us in recent seasons, so that’s something we want to achieve this time before setting out to defend our Ulster title and then trying to reach Croke Park when the All Ireland series comes around,” she said.

“So, we’re under no illusions that there’s a lot of hard work to be done if we’re to fulfil those ambitions but it’s also right to be proud of our achievements this past season and, at a personal level, it’s a huge honour to get the Player of the Year award given the talent here.

“I was absolutely delighted for Cian being recognised last night for I see the work that he puts in, and also Rian who was widely regarded as unlucky not to get an All Star this year.  There’s a lot of pressure playing for the Armagh men’s side but he has done well.

“We all play the same sport and have the same dreams, so it was uplifting to hear both Jarlath Burns and the Armagh GAA Chairman speaking positively about ladies football tonight and how we deserve respect and fair treatment.

“That said, I know we’re exceptionally fortunate to have such a visionary and dedicated County Board of our own, which is so well led by Sinead.  Every time I arrive for training at McKeever Park, I feel grateful for the efforts which have been made to support us.

“It’s great for the young girls coming after us too, knowing the facility is there with plans for further development.  Our underage county teams have done well this year also and it’s enjoyable being able to celebrate together tonight as an Armagh football family,” enthused Lauren.