October 27th, 2023


Richard Bullick

Clonmore midfielder Riona Cunningham says there is great anticipation in the local community ahead of the club hosting a provincial championship match for the first time in its history this weekend.

After finally winning the Armagh Junior Championship this autumn following three decider defeats in the past five seasons, Ryan O’Hagan’s women will have home advantage on Sunday (2pm) against Derry representatives Lavey in their Ulster Junior quarter-final.

“The hype around here is unreal!  This is the first ever Ulster Club Championship match in Clonmore so it’s an historic occasion and everybody’s buzzing.  The goalmouths have even been returfed ahead of the big game,” reveals Cunningham.

“Clonmore ladies had never won a championship until last month and it was well celebrated, but the good gap until the provincial campaign meant there was time to really enjoy that but then get ready for another exciting challenge.  We want to have a proper crack at this.

“Our opponents weren’t known until the weekend due to the scheduling of the Derry finals but we’ve worked on what we want to do.  The nucleus of this team have grown up playing together and there’s almost telepathy between us at this stage.

“Knowing each other’s mannerisms and trigger movements is a big benefit, but sure half of us are related anyway!” laughs Riona, one of four sets of sisters in the team along with the Conlons, Forkers and Carmichaels.

“It’s been really special playing with my younger sister Maighread for the first time this season.  She scored 1-1 in our county final and that emerging generation are really stepping up and playing their part.”

One of eight dual players in this team, Riona captains Port Mor camogs as well as being a key footballer for Clonmore while her parents, Breda and Gerry, occupy the chairperson position in the respective clubs.

Along with Niamh and Aoife Forker, Riona Cunningham is one of three county camogs in the Clonmore ranks while inspirational skipper Emma Conlon and star forward Sarah Quigley have previous experience in the Orchard ladies football panel.

That quintet are influential figures along with Tara Conlon and goalkeeper Rebecca Dobbin Donaghy in a youthful team where full back Emily Mullen is the oldest player at the age of 24 with boss O’Hagan just one year older.

Lavey may come with momentum on the back of last Saturday’s impressive 4-8 to 0-5 victory over Claudy in the Derry Intermediate decider but the close-knit local community are expected to turn out in numbers to get behind the Clonmore ladies in this historic clash.

Meanwhile, Armagh second tier title winners Granemore will host Castleblaney in an Ulster Intermediate quarter-final this Sunday (2pm).  Orchard champions Clann Eireann are already into the Senior semis thanks to their away win against Cavan’s Drumlane at the weekend.