March 15th, 2024


Richard Bullick

Crossmaglen legend Lauren McConville is set to join the exclusive Orchard centurion club this Sunday in Ballina when avoiding defeat against Mayo (1pm) would secure Armagh’s place in the NFL Division One final for the first time ever.

She spent one summer in America and also took a two-year sabbatical in Australia but, if McConville starts this weekend it will, remarkably, be her 100th Armagh match without ever being injured or dropped.

Originally as a forward and more recently a converted centre half back who has made the national All Stars shortlist in each of the past three seasons, McConville has been a first-choice starter for seven different Armagh management teams during her Orchard career.

Armagh making an historic breakthrough in her milestone match would be the perfect celebration for 29-year-old vice-captain McConville, the ultimate team woman who has recently completed a decade of fantastic service to the Orchard cause.

Greg McGonigle’s side need just one more point to guarantee their ticket to Croke Park for the April 7 showpiece having recorded five consecutive victories on their return to the National League’s top flight following a six-season absence.

They had a first ever away win over Cork sandwiched between beating Waterford and Galway at home before recording a hugely impressive victory by a double-digit margin over recent All Ireland champions Meath in their own Ashbourne backyard.

Before being beaten by the orangewomen, former Armagh manager Shane McCormack’s Meath had won their first three matches of the current campaign and the Orchard outfit then ended Kerry’s unbeaten record this season at the Athletic Grounds last time out.

The hosts briefly fell behind in the second half of a blockbuster top of the table battle between the National League leaders and title holders at Orchard headquarters but Armagh had seven points to spare in the end after finishing strongly.

Even an Orchard defeat this weekend would see them through to the final should Dublin slip up against Cork or Kerry fail to beat Meath, and if needed Armagh have a second chance to get that point when the Dubs visit the cathedral city on Sunday week.

However, the Orchard crew want to maintain momentum with another strong showing this weekend and that is McConville’s main focus rather than the mathematical calculations or her own impending personal landmark.

“It’s special to be reaching the 100-game milestone.  I’ve watched a number of my past and present team-mates achieve this so it’s nice to finally join them.  Playing for Armagh means a lot to me and it’s always an honour to pull on the orange jersey,” reflects Lauren.

“Obviously this hasn’t been the focal point for me throughout this league campaign, it’s been about us giving Division One football a good go again after that long gap and trying to put in as good of a performance as we can each game.

“It has definitely been a step up being back in Division One but we are enjoying the challenge, have adjusted quite well and are striving to improve every game.  Results have been good so far but this Mayo match will be another tough one.

“We’ve had some great battles over the past few years and it was a particularly close game between us last season in the (All Ireland Senior) Championship, when we managed to steal the win right at the end, so we know we’ll have to be at our best to get a result.”

McConville picked up Player of the Match that day and Armagh also overcame Mayo to reach the 2020 All Ireland semis before beating them in the following season’s group game, but the western women won the previous three encounters.

As well as the 2019 All Ireland quarter-final, that included both league games last time Armagh were in Division One, 2016 and 2017, and Liam McHale’s team, who have seven points from their five fixtures so far, will have home advantage this weekend.

It would be fitting for McConville’s milestone to come up on March 17 as that date has particular resonance for Crossmaglen, with Lauren’s dad Jim captaining the club to their first All Ireland final victory on St Patrick’s Day in 1997.

She comes from one of gaelic football’s most famous families with uncle Oisin a household name and three first cousins plus her younger brother Cian in the Armagh men’s set-up at present, but Lauren McConville is an outstanding sportsperson in her own right.

A former Queen’s University skipper, McConville captained Crossmaglen to their Armagh Intermediate title triumph in 2017, was crowned Orchard County Player of the Year for 2022 and has three Ulster All Stars to her name.

Short in stature but physically fearless and exceptionally competitive, she defends ferociously and attacks from deep with conviction, an intelligent and dependable player and natural leader who is a supreme professional in everything she does.

A renowned mimic, poet and dancer, McConville enjoys life and has an expansive personality but she but is a very dedicated county footballer, club camog – she shone as Cross reached last season’s All Ireland Junior B final – and in her professional life.

An ‘excellent attendance’ certificate from Our Lady’s Grammar Newry reflected her sense of commitment from an early age and a student who went on to complete a Masters at TUD delayed coming on board with Armagh until she had settled in as a QUB undergraduate.

She has shone from the outset as a player and, as a courteous and dignified individual of real integrity, McConville is a great role model and ambassador who is a credit to herself, family, club, county and the sport of ladies gaelic football.

In a touching tribute to her mum on International Women’s Day last Friday, Lauren spoke of ‘the most hard-working, kind and selfless person I know’.  It feels like the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree when it comes to the eldest of Michelle’s three children!  She’s a class act.

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