McCormack hoping to catch Geezer’s eye as club kings collide

By Shaun Casey

FOR seven years now, Armagh GAA have been honouring the best club players in the county with an annual combined Club Team of the Season and this year they have added something extra.

The All-Star team, picked from the best players across the three championship grades in the Orchard County, will line out against a ‘future county stars’ select in a charity game at the BOX-IT Athletic Grounds on Saturday, 9 December.

The county future stars will contain players that have impressed Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney over the past number of months, that perhaps didn’t get the chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage for their clubs.

“We’re hoping to see a lot of things,” said McGeeney, now entering his 10th season in charge of his native county. “The Club All-Stars is a fantastic idea, every year you get the best players from our club championships being recognised which is the number one thing.

“We also feel that we have a chance then to see all the club players that have excelled all year outside of the All-Star team – maybe the ones that their teams didn’t do quite as well but would still like to put their hands up to play for the county.

“We’ll be able to use the game on a trial basis as well It’s the best of the club players against the Club All-Stars and I think it could make for a really fantastic night.

“There’s a lot of people that would like to put their hands up and show the talent that they’ve got. Sometimes when your club maybe isn’t going as well then you don’t get that chance so hopefully this will give everyone the opportunity to do that and show us what they’ve got.”

One of the players hoping to raise their hand and show Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winning captain what he can do is Ballyhegan score-getter James McCormack. McCormack was the headline grabber for his club as they reached the Junior Championship final this season.

Unfortunately for the Davitts, they lost out quite heavily to Clann Éireann IIs in the end, but McCormack had done enough throughout the campaign to earn a well-deserved place on the Club All-Star team and was also gifted the Junior Player of the Year award as well.

“It was a great achievement; we had a good year with the club,” said McCormack ahead of the game. “I know it’s an individual award and ultimately, I would have liked to have lifted the Junior Championship trophy with the club but still I was proud to get an All-Star.

“It’s great to get a chance to play in this game, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s the first time it’s ever been done so it’ll be good to get seeing young boys playing and coming up against good opposition and boys that you’ve never played with before.

“Before the club championship this year I think I’d played in the Athletic Grounds twice between schools football and underage county so this will be a good opportunity to get playing with the best players in the county.

“That’ll only push you on. Some of the boys playing might have to do things all by themselves at club level whereas in this game, you’re playing in a really good team. It means that you can lean on them a bit more and hopefully you can show what you can do.”

McGeeney will be keeping a close eye on a number of talented youngsters currently coming through the ranks in the Orchard County, just as he has done right throughout the club championship.

The likes of Ciaran Mackin and Shane McPartlan had both made impressive performances for their clubs in recent years and have graduated to the senior inter-county ranks, with both making their Armagh championship debuts in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

“There are loads of good players and there’s a couple that we’ve had been looking at that won Club All-Stars themselves,” explained the 2002 Footballer of the Year.

“But there have been some fantastic players this year throughout all three club championships.

“You have young (Tomas) Galvin and (James) O’Hara there from Keady, you had Oisin Conaty, who has obviously already been with us already last year, young (Emmet) Magee of Clann Éireann and (Michael) McConville from Clan na Gael.

“There are good players in all the teams right throughout the junior, intermediate and senior championships. We didn’t have great weather some of the weekends of the championship so there were maybe games and performances that didn’t live up to expectations.

“But there were plenty of great games during the championships as well, so it’s been a good year that way. I think there’s a lot of players that have put their hands up and I’ll be keen to see them now maybe under a wee bit more pressure.

“I really enjoyed the club championships this year. There were some really good performances and some really good individual displays, and I suppose coming to the tail end of it there were maybe a few upsets, but the favourites always tend to do well as well.

“There were some cracking games, particularly the intermediate championship semi-finals where there were lots of goals which everybody is always happy to see. I was really pleased with the championships and a lot of younger players putting their hands up.”

McCormack was named on the Club All-Star team at corner forward with Armagh joint captains Rian O’Neill (who picked up his sixth Club All-Star award this season) and Aidan Nugent completing the inside line.

Oisin O’Neill, Stefan Campbell, Callum Cumiskey and McPartlan are other star names that have represented Armagh in the championship in recent seasons who McCormack will get the chance to share the field with.

“It should be a great game and I’m getting to link up with some of the best players in the county,” added the Ballyhegan sharpshooter, who finished the season as top scorer in the Armagh Junior Championship with an impressive personal tally of 6-30.

“At junior level you might not be able to play with those boys so this will be a great opportunity to link up with them and play even better with them.”

Unfortunately, for McCormack and those in attendance as well, Nugent won’t be part of the All-Star selection, and neither will his Cullyhanna clubmates Sean Connell, Shea Hoey and Intermediate Footballer of the Year Ross McQuillan.

Those four will have their eyes firmly fixed on a much bigger prize as they take on Ballyhaise of Cavan in the Ulster Intermediate Championship final the following day and are hoping to be the first ever Armagh team to lift the Patrick McCully Cup.

“You’re a bit in the dark and that does put a bit of a curve ball into it,” continued McCormack on the gaps that will now have to be filled on the All-Star team.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen there because they would have been four good lads to have played with and they’ll be a big miss to our team. I’m sure there’ll be four other lads to fill in and they’ll be just as good.

“I’m sure there’ll be a good crowd at the game and I’m really looking forward to getting to play with players that are top footballers in Armagh. You’re going to be playing against boys that are at the top of their game.”

While players and management alike will have their own personal ambitions heading into the encounter, it’s a charity event at the end of the day and the money raised will go towards the development of new and much-needed county training facilities along with the Southern Area Hospice.

“The hospice is a fantastic cause; we’ve done things with them before,” added McGeeney, who shaved his head for a ‘headless for the hospice’ charity campaign back in 2020 and raised over £30,000.

“It’s a place that I suppose none of us ever want to use but we’re so glad of it when it’s there, if and when the time comes. I’ve been involved in a few things before with them as a charity partner.

“I think it’s a fantastic way of giving a wee bit back to people that have given us so much in our time of need and hopefully it’ll be a great success for everybody involved.”

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