WHEN you think of Armagh club football your thoughts immediately turn to the all-conquering Crossmaglen. And that’s understandable given their unprecedented success.
There were other times though when the Rangers were not the most dominant side in the Orchard county, and when the ‘70s were drifting into the ‘80s, it was another big C from south Armagh that ruled the roost – Carrickcruppen.
The Camlough side may have experienced a bit of a barren spell as of late, the club are now more familiar with plying their trade at intermediate level, but there have been undoubted shoots of recovery. Those stories from parents and grandparents can only add further motivation to try and get back towards the top.
Carrickcruppen’s first Armagh title came in 1959 with victory over Clann Eireann but between 1978 and 1982 they would add three in five years with Crossmaglen twice defeated and Clan na Gael losing out once.
That 1979 win would lead to one of the most memorable years in the club’s history as it opened the door to an Ulster campaign that came up just short against Scotstown in the provincial final in March 1980.
Forty years on, some players from that team recall that incredible run.
John Burns had captained the club’s minors to a county title in 1975 – defeating an Armagh Harps side led by a certain John Corvan in the final – and he was part of an exciting crop that would supplement the senior team.
Although he missed the comfortable county final win over Cross with a hamstring injury, he was back in time for the Ulster campaign.
The quarter-final draw threw up the old Armagh-Down rivalry with ‘Cruppen set for a trip to Castlewellan, who had also enjoyed a comfortable county final success at the expense of Rostrevor. Kevin McElroy had captained them to a league and championship double that season.
The Town were a formidable Sevens team at the time, but they transferred their success to the 15-a-side arena in ‘79 as holders Downpatrick, Kilclief, Tullylish and Bredagh were defeated to set up that clash with the Reds, which they won on a 2-10 to 1-4 scoreline.
They also had an advantage over the visitors as they had already defeated Cavan’s Laragh Unted in the preliminary round.
That sharpness showed clearly in the first half, and for Burns his return from injury looked like it would be a short one.
“We played Castlewellan in the quarter-final and it was a brilliant match. It was in Castlewellan and we were 10 points down at half-time. I think Brian Canavan scored two goals in the second half and I think both may have come off my ‘50s’.
“We got the draw and we came back to Carrickcruppen and we had to change in St Paul’s school that day. There was a big crowd up at it.
“We were getting beat by a point with a minute or two to go. Castlewellan got a free-kick about 40 yards out in front of goal.
“Benji Toner would hit the long frees, 60 or 70 yards, so we all thought it was over. But instead of hitting it long towards our square, he decided to chip it over to Barney McAleenan I think it was.
“Peter Loughran nipped in, intercepted it, gave the ball to Leo McCabe who came forward. He went in against their goalkeeper Laurence McAlinden who played for Down at that stage.
“At that time you could pass the ball to the net with your fist and Leo, being too lazy to kick it, sort of punched it toward goal, McAlinden jumped up in like a star jump and it rolled along the ground and trickled over the line.”
Casement Park was next and a semi-final meeting with Antrim outfit St Teresa’s.
A decade earlier, the Saffron side had just escaped Division Six in Antrim but their stock rose at an astonishing pace and in ’79, under the management of Br Ennis, they defeated St John’s to lift the county title for the first and only time in their history.
Current Carrickcruppen chairperson Gerry Flynn, a half-back on the team, takes up the story of the trip to Casement Park.
“St Terera’s had won the Antrim title for the first time and I think we won 2-8 to 1-7 or 1-6 or something like that,” he said.
“I remember they had a big crowd with them from Belfast and they were shouting at you over the pailing.
“I always played half-back but against Castlewellan I was named corner-forward and came out and marked Colm McAlarney.
“They played the same tactics against St Teresa’s but it wasn’t working. At half-time we regrouped and I went back to half-back and we played our normal line-out. The one thing I remember about the second half is that Mícheál McParland scored a fantastic goal, unbelievable.
“The kick-out was won, two, three passes down the field and Mícheál got it and he buried it in the back of the net.I remember the headline in the Irish News read ‘McPartland scores crucial goal’. He used to say that they couldn’t even get his name right.”
While the semi-final was held before Christmas, the Ulster final against Scotstown in Coalisland didn’t take place until the beginning of March.
The Cruppen squad put in a great winter’s training as they tried to defeat the odds while the week before Peter Loughran had sharpened his skills as Ulster defeated Connacht in the Railway Cup semi-final at Breffni Park.
The one substitute that day was Gerry McCarville, just one of the star names that had helped bring Scotstown to the top of the pile in Monaghan.
Ahead of the game the Anglo-Celt reported that “over the last three or four weeks the ‘Blues’ seem to have regained both their appetite and sharpness that highlighted their first title win a year ago.”
They had played at Coalisland the week before against a North Tyrone select and with the likes of the Moynas, the McCarvilles and Fergus Caulfied on board, the holders were understandably warm favourites.
Flynn said that the south Armagh men were well aware of this, but they were not going to be caught short when it came to being prepared.
“We beat Cavan Gaels the year before and then we lost to St John’s in the semi-final at the Athletic Grounds.
“We were a wee bit green but we knew we weren’t too far off.
“We got back to the final against Scotstown but we played St Teresa’s in November time or maybe the first Sunday in December. I’m not sure if it was the Troubles that held it up or what, but the final wasn’t played until March 9 up in Coalisland.
“We had to train that whole winter and we trained our dung out. Cruppen at the time, you couldn’t get them out to train until they got a run a championship but once they did they went all the way.
“We had no clubhouse at the time so I remember them making soup and stew for us up in the old school in Camlough. It created a real bond.
“Young fellas breaking into a senior team, there are always going to be cliques. We were 19, 20 but that training created a bond.
“Scotstown were Ulster champions and there were big noises about this team. We were convinced we weren’t going to be beat though.
“We were going down there to prove that we were a surprise package and we nearly did, losing by a point in the end.
“People look back and say the game was blew up early and we didn’t take our chances, but we had a bloody good team and we should have won it.”
Regrets then, but glorious memories too of the greatest season in the history of Carrickcruppen.
Over the last couple of years, silverware has started to trickle back into the Lowes Lane club at underage level with last season’s U-21 B title proving a real source of encouragement.
Burns praised the work carried out by the 1980 management team of Cathal Boylan, Paddy Lynch and Mickey McCann as well as the coaching work conducted by the likes of Jonny Crummey, Jimmy McMahon and Harry Shields.
He may be based in Warrenpoint these days, but the former midfielder can’t help but note the similarities to the current day.
“We won the minors in 1975, the only time the club ever won that competition,” said Burns.
“Six or seven of that minor team came through basically straight away to join what was already a good senior panel of players.
“You had boys like Pat McGuinness, Gerry O’Reilly, Gene Hughes, the Trainors (Eamonn and Peter) there already.
“There was a great combination there, nine or 10 good, experienced players and then the minors coming in to help them. That to me was the key to that team. Then you had the coaches and mentors that would do everything. I remember Harry taking 11 of us up the Camlough Road in his car once taking us to a match.
“Every club has those sorts of people, the ones who keep the club going in good times and especially in bad.
“We are seeing that again at the club now. People are putting in so much effort and you can see now a young crop of players coming through and going straight into the senior team. So it’s exciting times again.”
For Flynn, to get anything close to those days would be a great source of pride.
“You always think you’ll be back again but it never works out like that,” he said.
“It was an unbelievable time. People cheering you, slapping you on the back and looking to buy you a drink.
“I could only imagine what it was like for the county players at that time, especially with the ’77 Armagh squad making it to Croke Park.
“I thought it was never going to end. My first five years of senior football brought five county finals.
“We haven’t been in once since but hopefully we get to experience those brilliant, brilliant times in the future once again.”