FOOTBALL JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Armagh Junior Football Championship final
Forkhill v Belleek
(Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 5.30pm)
SHORTLY after Forkhill’s semi-final win over Derrynose, Barry Shannon got a text.
“Did you hear what they said about you on Armagh TV? “No,” he replied. “They called you 43-year-old Barry Shannon.” “Great.”
Shannon has been about long enough without needing another four years added on. He’s 39, just, with the big 4-0 just a few weeks away. The perfect present is on offer this weekend as the Peadar Ó Doirnín men face south Armagh rivals Belleek in the Armagh Junior final.
Of all the Forkhill men in the squad, Shannon will know better than any about dreaming too much about that glory moment – and the danger that can bring.
The Shannon surname has a big history in Forkhill. His uncle Leo captained the club to their one and only championship success, their 1981 Junior title.
Shannon got his picture with the cup after that 0-7 to 0-2 win over Tullysaran. Player-manager Denis McCoy was the star, but the umpires were unable to signal his scores properly as they forgot their flags while there were no linesmen at all. Times have changed, and the Armagh TV cameras will be at the Athletic Grounds hoping to capture Shannon – and Forkhill’s – glory moment.
The opposite is almost incomprehensible for the St Paul’s PE teacher. Forkhill is a small parish surrounded by big Armagh clubs and when he came through the ranks of underage there was no football to be had.
A few players headed to Dromintee, others made their way to Silverbridge. He opted for the former, and in his senior career with the St Patrick’s club he lost five Senior finals – every single one of them to Crossmaglen.
It’s been a hard road, and the draw of retirement was growing ever stronger, but Shannon said that the current crop drew him back in with their efforts.
“I’ve just got a new lease of life playing with young fellas like Jemar Hall, ‘Bug’ (Stephen Sheridan), Paddy Burns and even my own younger brother James there.
“Then there are a rake of young lads there too who are willing to listen and learn, and that’s always a great environment to be involved in. They’re the only reason I’m still playing. The Covid situation has brought everyone together even more, I think that’s the same with most clubs. There are big panels there, everyone seems to be home, and it’s made the whole thing really competitive.
“We have subs to bring in this year, and that’s something we maybe didn’t have in previous seasons.”
Forkhill have one of the smallest areas to pull from in the Orchard county. Their run to senior football in 2015 was one of the most impressive feats by a club in recent times.
They have fallen through the ranks since, but Shannon gives an explanation for that.
“People see us with three county men (Hall, Sheridan and Burns) and think we shouldn’t be near junior football,” he said.
“But people have to remember that for most of the last few years we have been working without those three. Playing Senior League, Intermediate A and B without those three would hurt any club.
“Forkhill have only won one Junior Championship in their whole lifespan and I think they’re going from 1888. That puts the whole thing in perspective about how small a club Forkhill are.”
Shannon is very wary of the challenge posed by Belleek this Sunday. He has coached some of them at the Bessbrook school and he has watched from afar as they took apart Clady, Dorsey and St Michael’s.
“I’ve taught a lot of those Belleek boys and when I go through the team I see a lot of the names that have been synonymous with the club – I see Finnegan, I see Quinn, I see McCreesh, I see McParland.
“That’s a brilliant start for them because those are the names that have been the bedrock of that club.”
By Niall McCoy
Armagh Intermediate Football Championship final
Clan na Gael v St Paul’s
(Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 4pm)
IT would be wrong to say that Sunday’s Intermediate final boils down to a battle between St Paul’s ace Andrew Murnin and Clan na Gael star Stefan Campbell, but it would be a shock if the victors don’t have a starring performance from their main man.
The Armagh teammates have had a huge influence on the progress of their clubs to the final.
The knockout format put extra pressure on Diarmaid Marsden and Joe Lavery’s Clans side as they were paired against another heavyweight, Shane O’Neill’s, in the first round.
They were in trouble against the Camlough men too as they trailed 0-7 to 0-3 in the first half, but they kept in touch and late scores from Shane McPartlan and Campbell secured a 0-13 to 0-11 win.
Their winning margin was 10 points against Clonmore in the quarter-final, but they again were far from their best in the opening half as they led by just a single point at the break. Campbell and McPartlan again caused havoc in attack with team captain Ronan Austin also chipping in with a few scores as things improved dramatically after the interval.
Campbell was Man of the Match in the 1-14 to 0-11 semi-final win over Keady which set up this tasty derby encounter.
His run for the only goal of the game was a real highlight moment. Wearing a green head bandage for a blood injury, ‘Soupy’ raced down the terrace side from midfield and into the Keady box. Most players would have been unable to resist the shot at goal, but he had the vision to pick out Mel Patterson who finished with his left foot.
Vision is also one of the key attributes that sets Andrew Murnin apart from most other forwards in Armagh.
Take, for example, Ryan Lawless’s two goals in their thrilling 3-12 to 2-13 quarter-final win over Carrickcruppen. Both were down to the work of Murnin who delivered two pin-point kickpasses across the face of goal for the no. 11 to convert.
Lawless is another player who has been performing well while Aaron Rodgers had a good semi-final as he posted 1-2 against an in-form Tullysaran. Manager Ciaran Nash will certainly feel that he has the tools to secure a second Intermediate title for St Paul’s in five seasons.
This has the potential to be a cracker between two clubs who have a big rivalry. Expect fireworks, as well as some inspirational moments from Campbell, Murnin and two very talented supporting casts.