April 27th, 2023


Richard Bullick

Crossmaglen gate-crasher Lauren McConville audaciously stole the show with a match-winning contribution as the class of 2021 beat their 2022 counterparts in the All Stars exhibition match in Texas on Easter Sunday.

Supersub McConville ended up as the top scorer on either team and came away with the bragging rights over her county colleague Aimee Mackin of Shane O’Neills after proving the inspiration for her side’s dramatic comeback from nine points down.

Captaining the 2022 All Stars, former All Ireland Player of the Year Mackin kicked seven points, including a free, but was upstaged by McConville’s 2-3 from play as the team in pale blue jerseys won an entertaining game 6-16 to 4-18.

However, four-time All Star Mackin made the headlines when the Orchard duo teamed up in Croke Park just six days later by bagging an astonishing hat-trick inside the opening nine minutes as Armagh beat Laois in the NFL Division Two final.

It has been a special month for McConville with that memorable All Stars tour and then tasting victory at headquarters for the first time in an Orchard career which began almost a decade ago and has featured 88 Armagh matches without ever being injured or dropped.

“The All Stars tour to Texas was the trip of a lifetime.  I felt privileged to go and have the opportunity to play with some of the best players in the game.  It was lovely to get to know all the girls away from our usual competitive environment on the pitch,” she reflects.

“Austin was a great city.  I even had the chance to try a bit of line-dancing, although I think I will stick to the football as I wasn’t very good at it!  It really was a great trip though, such a nice experience, and I enjoyed every minute.

“We were very happy to get the win in Croke Park at the weekend.  It wasn’t our best performance, and there’s plenty to be working on in the coming weeks, but everyone says finals are all about winning and it was just great to get over the line finally.

“Promotion to Division One has been on our agenda for some time now, so it’s nice to have finally achieved that.  It was a tough battle on the day and Laois asked plenty of questions of us.  I was glad that we had the character and drive to see out the game.

“Our league campaign will give us a good foundation now going forward into championship,” says McConville ahead of the Orchard defence of their Ulster title which begins with a round robin battle away to Donegal on Sunday week.

In a thoughtful gesture after returning from Texas, McConville had gone to see injured Crossmaglen Under 12 player Cara Donnelly and presented her with the Armagh jersey she had worn in last year’s NFL Division Two final, her first appearance in Croke Park.

Shortlisted for the All Stars the past two seasons without making the ceremonial line-up itself, McConville was an obvious choice to be one of the extra players brought on the Texas tour to make up the numbers, but the 28-year-old didn’t settle for a peripheral role.

Although Lauren was playing in a more advanced position than she does for Armagh these days as a converted centre half back, emerging as top-scorer was still a fantastic achievement considering the calibre of forwards in the 2021 All Stars ranks.

Their six starting forwards were Irish rugby international Hannah Tyrrell of Dublin, Mayo’s Rachel Kearns, the Meath trio of Niamh O’Sullivan, Vikki Wall and Emma Duggan, and Donegal legend Geraldine McLaughlin.

Wall won All Ireland Player of the Year in 2021, O’Sullivan picked up Player of the Match in last season’s All Ireland final while McConville’s fellow sub, Lyndsey Davey of Dublin, is one of the sport’s most decorated players.

This was the first tour since before the pandemic and every single player who won an All Star in either of the relevant seasons made themselves available for the trip to America, with the quartet who were honoured both years lining out for the 2021 team in Austin.

The 2021 All Stars were managed by Eamonn Murray, the man who steered Meath to back-to-back All Ireland titles the past two years, and there were eight Royals in the starting team but it was the opposition who made the running in the opening period.

It took just 15 seconds for Mackin to open the scoring for the team in navy jerseys, who had hit an unanswered 1-2 by the fourth minute and were seven up with 11 gone, though a Hannah Looney penalty helped keep Murray’s women in touch at the water-break.

McConville came on and won a turnover within seven seconds but things got worse before they got better as the 2022 All Stars stretched their lead to nine points before the Orchard hero palmed home a much-needed goal and raised a white flag a minute later.

Mackin and Donegal dangerwoman Geraldine McLaughlin, two of just five Ulsterwomen on the tour, each had five points to their name and McConville 1-2 after a first half which featured a late goal by the powerful Wall.

It was 4-10 to 3-9 at the interval but a burst of three goals in as many minutes – from Tyrrell, McConville and Meath’s Emma Troy – turned the game on its head and put their team seven ahead with 20 minutes remaining.

Having palmed home her first half goal after great approach play by the team, McConville did well to squeeze her second past the imposing goalkeeper from an acute angle on the right and she kicked another nice point early in the last quarter.

The scoring continued from both teams and the managers rotated their players in the face of heat and humidity but the industrious McConville was on the field for all of the final 45 minutes and played with typical intensity to help her team close out a deserved victory.

Her 2-3 was well backed up by captain Tyrrell’s 1-3, McLaughlin’s five points and 1-2 from Wall while Carla Rowe of Dublin led the way with 2-2 for the opposition supplemented by Mackin’s seven points and Meath’s Stacey Grimes raised two green flags.

The two Orchard aces were greeted at the final whistle by fellow south Armagh native Gerry Doherty, the Ulster LGFA President, one of a number of travelling dignitaries, with match-changer McConville first up for interview with Jerome Quinn afterwards.

“It was a great game, really intense, but great fun playing alongside girls that you wouldn’t usually get to play with, who are usually on the other side,” enthused Lauren, who felt the match had been quite competitive for a mere exhibition!

“I think everyone was giving it loads today, as you saw – it was up and down the whole time.  The defensive structures kind of go out the window when you’re out here, but it was a very good, free-flowing game and I really enjoyed it.”

Asked for her highlight, McConville chuckled: “Ah probably getting a goal or two.  I’ve been a back now the past couple of seasons so it was nice to get a couple of shots away again today!

“I’ve been loving the trip, it’s great to be out here in Texas and visiting Austin, a city I never thought I’d get to see, and obviously it’s nice to be sharing it with the GAA community,” she said, reflecting on a tour which also included river cruises and school visits.

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A total of nine counties were represented in the overall group of 38 players, Meath leading the way with 11 followed by seven from Kerry, five Dubs, a Mayo quartet, three each from Cork and Donegal, two apiece from Armagh and Galway plus Mo Nerney of Laois.

Emphasising the impression McConville made in the All Stars game, last season’s All Ireland Intermediate Player of the Year – who was on the losing side against her in Croke Park six days later – singled Lauren out when asked for her highlight of the match in Austin.

“I think it was Lauren McConville’s two goals even though she was on the opposite team to me.  But she’s a little rocket, she was flying up and down there today!” declared an admiring Nerney in her post-match interview.

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