Clann Eireann rising

Last weekend was an exceptionally memorable one for Armagh club Clann Eireann. Shaun Casey delves further into their success

IT may only be the start of August, but already, 2023 has been a year to remember for the Clann Eireann club. And last weekend will go down as a historic one.

On Friday night, the men’s team claimed a first-ever Senior League title, seeing off Madden in the final round of the campaign in style, with nine points to spare thanks to goals from Conor Turbitt, Conor McConville and Tiernan Kelly.

At the same time, the seconds team, competing in the basement division in its first year, completed promotion to Division 3A with a resounding 5-16 to 0-10 win over Killeavy IIs.

24 hours later, the Clann Eireann ladies continued their 100 per cent record in Division One, picking up their tenth successive victory to claim the league crown. Things couldn’t be much better at the minute.

“It was great to end those leagues on a high so there were loads of success last weekend,” said Armagh and Clann Eireann defender Clodagh McCambridge.

“Our wee underage girls won a tournament at the weekend too, they had all the trophies up at the club, so it was a really positive weekend for the club.

“The league’s been good in patches, and I would say the scorelines look good, but the league was really competitive within that, and we don’t always perform to the best that we can, but we’ve definitely built up a bit of momentum.

“We’re always striving to do the best that we can so, even going into the last game when we’d a game in hand and the league was already won, we were still striving to do the best that we can. But it’s great to come away with those results.”

“It was a massive weekend,” added Ryan Owens who helped Clann Eireann to their historic league title on Friday night and featured heavily for Ruairi Lavery’s side throughout the campaign.

“There was plenty of silverware coming back to the club this week and a special mention to our junior team as well. This was the first year of it in maybe five or six years and it’s one of those ones where you don’t know when the right time to do it is.

“We’d a good win on Friday night and a few pints to celebrate after. It shows the good work that’s being done in the club.

“It was our first championship in 58 years two years ago and then we’ve backed it up with our first ever league title this year, so it shows that we’re going in the right direction.”

The club is bursting with talent and that shone through at county level this season. Conor Turbitt top scored with 0-15 in Armagh’s run to the Ulster final, although Derry eventually dashed their Anglo Celt dreams.

Tiernan Kelly featured in the league, but injury ruled him out of the championship, while Barry McCambridge made the breakthrough this year and gave stellar performances, holding David Clifford and Shane Walsh scoreless in the league.

“We were probably a wee bit disappointed with the way TK’s county season ended up because he was getting better in an Armagh shirt and he was improving,” noted Owens of his teammates involved with the Orchard County.

“You could see his confidence improving, so you’d liked to have seen where he could have gone with Armagh this year. I thought Barry really stood up, he was excellent in the league, he’d a few niggles in the championship so it was probably a bit stop-start for him.

“Then you saw what ‘Turbo’ done in the championship, he lit it up for the first few games. He picked up a few niggles towards the end himself and didn’t carry that form through, but he was excellent in those first three or four games.

“Those boys, they’re the game winners. All us boys do the donkey work and get the ball to them, and they’ll create the wee moments of magic and the goals. That’s what they bring, they bring that wee bit of quality to the team.”

McCambridge’s sister Clodagh is a mainstay in the ladies team and her rock-solid defensive displays helped the Orchard County earn promotion to the topflight, collecting the Division Two league final along the way, and reaching a fourth Ulster final in a row.

Cait Towe, who broke into the first team last year, along with Tiarna Grimes and Coleman, were all part of Shane McCormack’s side this season.

There’s been a lot of success crammed into half a year and speaking to anyone in the club, they’re just getting started. With the championship just around the corner, Clann Eireann are in no mood to slow down.

Tommy Coleman led the team to their first Senior Championship title since 1968 two years ago, although he’ll be plotting his native clubs downfall this summer having taken over Killeavy at the start of the year.

The ladies got back on top in 2022, with a Dublin style ‘last dance’ campaign, combining youth and experience to claim the championship title. And as the league has shown, their primed for a title defence.

“Last year was massive for us getting that championship victory again in the final and it was really tough,” recalled McCambridge. “We knew coming into this year that there’s so many teams that are so well set up and they’re going to put it up to us.

“It was great to bring through that winning mentality this year but it’s just about keeping that going and to keep improving now for the championship this year because it’s going to be even harder to do that again.

“Our quarter-final will be away to either Grange or Silverbridge so all those celebrations from the weekend will be quickly forgotten. We have a few weeks now to properly tune in for that.

“Everyone is really focused and motivated to try and do that back-to-back but it’s going to be tough going when everyone else is going to be out to get you this year.

“We’ll take that pressure in our stride hopefully. We’ve got a massive panel of girls that are trying to compete to get into that starting team first of all, never mind hopefully going out and performing on the day.

“But I think that standard that we have in training will definitely stand to us, it’s really competitive and hopefully we can keep that going. Even in the league, you can have great scorelines and stuff but we’re trying to focus on our performances.

“We know coming into the championship that any off periods we’re having, teams will punish us, they’re so well set up at the minute so it’s just about managing that as well as we can and trying to be as consistent as possible for the full game.”

The Armagh SFC kicks off in a few weeks and Clann Eireann, championship winners two years ago, will be many peoples favourites to regain the Gerry Fagan Cup in 2023. That was with a knockout structure, but the championship will have a round-robin format this year.

Clann Eireann’s title defence didn’t go to plan last season, losing to Mullaghbawn in the first round by the minimum of margins, but they’ll be keen to right those wrongs this time around.

“Credit where credit’s due to Mullaghbawn, they came out and they did a real number on us,” added Owens, who missed the last two years through injury.

“I think the group stages this year, if a team gets caught on the hop once, the other two games allow you to recover but we’re hoping we’re not put in that position again.”

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