October 27th, 2023



Richard Bullick at the Athletic Grounds

Unlike last year, there was no dream start to Saturday’s Buttercrane Junior Championship final for Clonmore but this time the perennial bridesmaids got their fairytale ending and the celebrations were well worth the wait.

Beaten finalists three times in the past five seasons, Clonmore clinched their first championship silverware at the fourth time of asking with this deserved victory over a youthful Clann Eireann Seconds team at the Athletic Grounds.

These Lurgan girls are used to winning trophies for their club in age group football and this team had proved prolific on its way to the weekend’s decider, crushing Wolfe Tones 5-21 to 3-7 in the semi.

Centre half forward Aoife McDonald, who just turned 15 this month, has already featured for Clann Eireann’s first team while tall midfielder Evie McCafferty played netball for NI Under 17s in their European Championships earlier in the year.

Some of this side played an All Ireland Under 16 B Schools final for St Ronan’s College six months ago so there was plenty of valuable big game experience in the Clann Eireann ranks but Clonmore brought the hurt from that heartbreaking hat-trick of final losses.

They were also driven on by a strong sense of local community pride and representing their rural area, something which their excellent captain Emma Conlon made reference to in her match programme piece.

Brilliant in the previous Saturday’s semi-final victory over Pearse Og when star forward Sarah Quigley hit 1-7, the 23-year-old skipper played a blinder again and her former county colleague once more provided the cutting edge up front.

Quigley’s scoreboard contribution on this occasion was 1-5, registering the game’s opening point with a free and the last 1-4 from play as Clonmore powerfully pulled away after going in level at the break.

Maighread Cunningham and the captain’s younger sister Tara Conlon each weighed in with 1-1 while there was a point apiece from skipper Emma herself and the formidable midfield duo of Niamh Forker and Riona Cunningham.

Like her older sister, Aoife Forker was a robust presence on an afternoon when Clonmore’s top players stood up to be counted but this was a true team effort with much credit due also to manager Ryan O’Hagan.

In last autumn’s corresponding game, Clonmore netted an astonishing three goals well inside the first three minutes against Derrynoose at Davitt Park in Lurgan but came away empty-handed as they had done in previous finals against Mullabrack and Clan na Gael.

There was no early goal-rush this time but Clonmore’s big names made an immediate impact, Emma Conlon cutting out an opposition pass in the opening minute and finding fellow star Quigley, who made a wonderful run but pulled her shot just past the near post.

Quigley gave Clonmore the lead with a free after five minutes, won by Niamh Forker, but Clann Eireann quickly equalised through a lovely strike by the pink-booted Aoife McDonald who played some great balls which her attacking colleagues couldn’t capitalise on.

Clann Eireann survived when it seemed Aoife Forker was right through on goal and Clonmore then hit the woodwork before the teams traded points, another great run by Quigley leading to Maighread Cunningham cancelling out Chloe Galbraith’s score.

Quigley pushed a free past the near post which had resulted from her superb break from deep and Clonmore soon struck an upright but the ball came back to Maighread Cunningham, who put it in the net midway through the first half.

When Tara Conlon confidently turned and swung over a point in the 17th minute, Clonmore were four up but Clann Eireann Seconds got the last four scores of the half to go into the interval level.

McDonald played a sublime ball, like a right-footed Caroline O’Hanlon, which created the pressure that led to a converted free and three more points followed for Clann Eireann, the equalising effort coming in injury-time.

But Tara Conlon hit the Clann Eireann net just 17 seconds into the second period and Clonmore never looked back as they proceeded to outscore their opponents by 2-7 to just a single point in the last half hour of this match.

Influential in everything else, centre half back Emma Conlon even got in on the scoring by raising her team’s first white flag of the second half and both Clonmore midfielders pointed in quick succession to take them six clear.

Even the sinbinning of Carragh McGeown couldn’t rattle Clonmore as, although the resulting free was converted by Galbraith in the 40th minute, that was to be Clann Eireann’s solitary score of the half albeit some more opportunities were spurned.

Thereafter it was the Quigley show, with her first point from play following a good build-up which began with imposing goalkeeper Rebecca Dobbin Donaghy finding Emma Conlon in launching a move that also featured both Forkers and Riona Cunningham.

A 48th minute free from Quigley out on the left dropped into the Clann Eireann net over the goalkeeper and she soon pointed again after a good save by Donaghy under her crossbar at the other end.

Quigley got a lovely score after cutting in from the left and added a calm point as the game entered injury-time, with Conway’s whistle a few minutes later sparking joyful celebrations by the Clonmore players and their supporters whose long-awaited day had finally come.

CLANN EIREANN SECONDS: E Devlin; A McConaghy, D Smyth, K McGrady; M McCorry, S Doyle, A Delaney; E McCafferty (0-1), A McCaughley (capt); LM McAreavey, A Montgomery, A McDonald (0-1); A Lavery, E Kelly, C Galbraith (0-5, 3f).  Subs used: A McConville for McAreavey (43mins), E Melanophy for McCorry (49), K McConville for McConaghy (52), R McCaughley for A McConvolle (55), M Kelly for McGrady (61).

CLONMORE: R Dobbin Donaghy; C McGeown, E Mullen, E Casey; N McCory, E Conlon (capt; 0-1), C Carmichael; R Cunningham (0-1), N Forker (0-1); A Forker, S Quigley (1-5, 1f), K Mackle; S Carmichael, T Conlon (1-1), M Cunningham (1-1).  Subs used: E Donnelly for Mackle (44), F Farley for S Carmichael (61).

Referee: Philip Conway (Grange).