WHEN chatting to Granemore members for this week’s Club Focus, an interesting trend started to appear.
They would all use a variation of the phrase “we’re just a small, rural club” and then have to correct themselves by saying “well I know we aren’t a small club anymore.”
Those people were right to amend that statement. Yes, Granemore is small in geographical terms and very much rural, but the tentacles of St Mary’s have wrapped themselves around everyone in the area and now the GAA club is the centre of the community.
And with that growth has come the success and progress that again contradicts the small club narrative. Their footballers are now an established senior team, their camogs have broken down barriers and the ladies’ footballers are really starting to take shape and are trying to push into the top bracket.
Yes, Granemore may be small when it comes to area, but it’s a massive club – the biggest – to all those living near Pairc Naomh Mhuire.
Charlie Doyle is a familiar face around the grounds. A former star of the senior team in the years after the club’s 1949 reformation, he has carried out countless roles – including senior manager – and currently sits on the club committee.
Football had been played in the area since 1884 but it was Paddy Conroy and Mickey O’Neill who showed ambition to get the current club off the ground 72 years ago – and what a ride it has been. Paddy was the club’s first chairperson and Mickey had the honour of being the first secretary. Curates Fr McNally and Fr Hanratty also played key roles as Granemore started to grow.
“We struggled a lot in the ‘50s and the ‘60s,” said Doyle. “As a small rural club, emigration really hit us hard at that time.
“We won a couple of Trodden Cups (1956, ’58 and ’59), which would have been a mid-division Junior League.
“In 1970 we lost a Junior final but we came back and won it in ’71.
“We played an Intermediate final in 1980 and we were at that level to 1988 or ’89. We moved back down to junior level and won a Junior Championship in 1990.
“We then won our first Intermediate the following year in ’91. We rattled a few cages at senior level in the early ‘90s without achieving much.
“It finished up that we were back at junior level in ’98 and won it that year before winning another Intermediate in 2005.”
The team have remained at senior level ever since and on four occasions reached the semi-finals of the championship before losing out to Ballymacnab (twice), Dromintee and Armagh Harps.
The Dromintee loss in 2010 and last year’s loss to the ‘Nab were particularly tough to take. Ten years ago Dromintee defender Eddie Martin cleared off the line in the final seconds to prevent Granemore reaching their first senior final while last year their neighbours required extra-time in horrendous weather conditions.
What’s clear though is that if they keep on knocking on the door, that final appearance – and maybe a first-ever Gerry Fagan Cup – will arrive for a team that is very much considered a senior side despite a history of moving between intermediate and junior.
“It’s the ambition of the club to stay at that level as long as we can,” Doyle continued. “We have reached four semi-finals now at this stage but we are yet to get over the line.
“We are an ambitious club and there is a lot of good work going on to make sure we keep pushing forward. If you drop down it’s so hard to get back up so we want to maintain our status.
“If you stay senior you don’t feel inferior to anyone and that’s important for a football team.
“We feel that we are competing well at every age level. We’re not making a wreck, but we’re fielding and showing good signs, so it’s a positive time in Granemore.
“It’s a club for everyone, young and old, and for every ability. We just like to see people coming through the gate. To me, as everyone would say about their own, it’s the best club in the world.”
THE 2016 season will live long in the memory of Granemore members.
Not only did the camogie side of the club celebrate their 40th anniversary, but they also claimed their first-ever Senior title following a 2-10 to 2-8 win over Middletown at the Athletic Grounds – Rachael Merry’s goal and a point from Ciarrai Devlin late on ensuring that the Fr Tom Soraghan Shield would be visiting Granemore for the very first time.
It enjoyed its stay obviously, because it decided not to leave in 2017 or ’18 either as the club established itself as a real force in Armagh camogie.
For Mairéad McCann, manager of that history-making side with Paddy McArdle and current vice-chairperson of the camogie club, it has been an incredible journey.
“We formed our club in 1976. Pat Rock, Lord have mercy on him, and Lucy Hill, nee Doyle, were the founders.
“Lucy became chairperson for six or seven years and her daughter (Ciara) is now a star player for us in midfield and one of the best players in Armagh. So once you’re in this club, you’re in it no matter what!
“We were in four Junior finals between 1999 and 2002 and we were narrowly defeated in all of them apart from one where Culloville hammered us in 2000.
“We won the Junior Championship in 2003 against Clann Eireann. There were 12 minutes left and we were eight points down. I remember asking the referee, Julie O’Neill, what was in it at that stage when I was taking a free. I have never seen a Granemore team play like they did in those final 10 minutes.
“That was massive and then we won the Intermediate Championship in 2007 when we beat Madden in the final.
“We went up to senior and struggled against Ballymacnab and Keady. In 2012 some people considered downgrading but we ended up saying ‘absolutely not’.
“In 2014, for the first time in our history, we won the All-County Premier League and that gave us so much belief. Then came 2016 and that was just unbelievable.
“That June we had won the U-14 Division One title, our first title at that level, so it was a special time.
“We won the championship in 2017, did the double in 2018 and then we won the league again in 2019.”
With those county titles came entry into Ulster and matches with the likes of Dungiven, Eglish, Crosserlough and Bellaghy. The club are now well known right across Ulster.
McCann has been part of the senior management since 2012 and she feels there is a very simple reason for that.
“I always preach that whenever you hand over the jersey, it’s very important that you lift a bib.
“We can all play another role. People with recent playing experience are crucial too, every club needs that there.
“You’re born into it. No matter how big or how small your role is, you’ll always have a big part to play for Granemore.”
LIKE most GAA clubs, Pairc Naomh Mhuire has developed from something simple into an incredible sporting facility.
The land on the Granemore Road was purchased at the start of the 1980s and the pitch was officially opened in July 1984.
A hall was developed around the same time but since then, a growing membership has required big advancements.
A second training field was developed and in more recent times, the club has added a third pitch at the top end of the grounds. There is also a scoreboard and turnstiles so that the club is able to host big fixtures.
Over time, an increasing demand has meant that the hall has had to be extended to include extra changing rooms, meeting rooms and a gym.
Externally, the club has built a walking track to encourage more community links while there are few better places in Armagh to watch a summer’s game as their neat, elevated terraced gives a great view over the main pitch.
IN a short space of time, the Granemore ladies have followed the trajectory of the men’s footballers by moving from junior to senior.
They competed in the Senior Championship this year, losing to Grange narrowly, while they have been pushing hard in Division Two alongside Lissummon and Crossmaglen.
It was a sign that the St Mary’s are ready to make their mark at the top level, or so ladies’ secretary Lisa McClelland hopes anyway.
Since their formation in 2007 and entry into competitive action in ’08, the club has had years when there have been lots of players and years when there hasn’t.
In recent times, the consistency has started to arrive when it comes to numbers. They are also now coaching u-8 and u-10 girls from this season, and that should provide further ammunition down the line.
“It was up and down, one minute you had 60 players and the next year you might only have 18,” said McClelland. “Now though, with that u-8 and u-10 coaching, the girls are coming up with more football.
“The numbers are there and are improving every year. We have lots of younger girls coming up to play football. They’re starting from eight, whereas when I started I was maybe 24.
“Last year our u-12 team has 36 players. This year our u-16 team has 28 players. The seniors are still low on numbers but we’re just waiting on these age-groups to move up.”
The club has enjoyed an awful lot of success in what has been a relatively short history.
Junior Championships arrived in 2010 and ’16 while they were Intermediate victors last season. Their u-12s and u-14s have also picked up silverware at Division Two level in recent years, as have their u16.5s, while the u-16s did the Division Three double four years ago.
Granemore were crowned Club of the Year in 2010 and McClelland herself was honoured with a Volunteer Award at Armagh LGFA’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2018.
The Armagh Ladies County Board has also had plenty of representation from Granemore committee members, past and present, while they are making progress in terms of getting St Mary’s players onto Armagh squads.
Former player Ailish McNaughton started for Armagh in the 2006 All-Ireland final defeat to Cork, although she was a Derrynoose player at the time as Granemore were yet to form. Youngsters Corinna Doyle and Edel Hagney made their debuts in February’s National League win over Clare.
UNDERAGE football, ladies’ football and camogie is often a numbers game so Granemore have to make sure that they get the most out of what they have.
First and foremost they strive to create a fun environment for their young players to grow whilst also learning the skills associated with the various codes.
In the 1990s, the club decided to advance their juvenile structures and their efforts paid off with some notable achievements.
In 2002 Granemore won the Armagh U-16 Championship and followed it up with the Minor title in 2004 when they defeated Crossmaglen in the final.
There was extra reward for the latter with entry to the prestigious St Paul’s Minor Tournament in Belfast. The side lost out to Down champions and eventual provincial champions Rostrevor in an excellent contest with Declan Doyle grabbing Granemore’s goal on the day.
In 2005, the Intermediate-winning senior team contained nine members of that minor squad.
On the camogie front there is a real push to develop and maintain links between the senior squad and the underage teams.
To put that into practice, every underage team has a coach who lines out with the St Mary’s senior team. An U-14 Division One title earlier this season suggests that they are very much on the right path.
Ladies’ football is one of the world’s fastest growing sports and Granemore isn’t immune.
This year’s Armagh minor side, which unfortunately did not get to play together due to the Covid situation, was set to include Edel Hagney and Corinna Doyle.
Ellie McKee was also on the Orchard’s minor squad last season. Millie Lavery, Lucy Doyle and Laura Reneghan were also involved with Armagh underage squads in 2019.
KIERAN Toner is probably the most famous of all Granemore players to have represented the Orchard county having played such a star role in the county’s 2008 Ulster success.
Toner made his senior debut against Donegal in 2007 and was a valuable asset at both full-back and midfield, even if he has fancied himself as a bit of a ‘bear in the square’ at full-forward on club duty in recent times.
Toner was one of five Granemore players on the Armagh minor squad that won the Ulster title in 2005 alongside Tony McClelland, Jason O’Neill, Jonathan Fahy and Declan Doyle. In the process of winning Man of the Match in the Ulster final against Down, McClelland also had the honour of being the first man from Granemore to score at Croke Park.
Caolan Rafferty is another who enjoyed success with the Armagh seniors recently before work commitments took him overseas.
On the camogie front, this season is a very proud one for the club as Rachael Merry was selected as joint-captain of Armagh. Ciara Hill and Ciarrai Devlin are also on the Orchard panel.
Footballers Corinna Doyle and Edel Hagney have made their Armagh senior debuts this year after playing against Clare in February.