By Kieran Lynch
CROSSMAGLEN Rangers and Armagh brother and sister duo, Cian and Lauren McConville, ended their year on a high note, as both were recently recognised for their outstanding individual seasons in 2022.
On Thursday, December 1, the younger sibling, Cian, was awarded the Armagh Club Player of the Year for his displays in the amber and black, including a Player of the Match performance in the Armagh Senior Championship final, which saw the potent corner forward score 0-8 against Granemore.
“I was happy enough with how the year went,” he reflected.
“After the Silverbridge and Dromintee games people didn’t really know what to think of us, but then the Maghery game was just one of those nights where everything went to plan, and that game in particular gave us a lot of confidence and lifted the mood in the camp.
“On a personal level, I know I’m at the stage now where I have to be one of the more important players in the team, whereas when I first came on the scene, I was probably happy enough to let other players stand out, because I knew we had the experience.
“But the team is completely different now, and I know I’m only 22, but I feel like one of the older boys, and the onus is on me, which I like, because I feel responsible for what happens on the field.”
The following night, Cian’s older sister Lauren received the Armagh County Player of the Year award for a tremendous campaign at number six for the Orchard side, which included a stand-out showing against back-to-back All-Ireland champions Meath.
“It probably makes it all worthwhile,” said Lauren of receiving the personal acclaim.
“We wouldn’t really dwell too much on individual achievements, but it’s a privilege. On my team in particular, I see the quality players that we have, so to get that award is a great honour, and I’m delighted with it.
“It was a new role for me over the last couple of years, because I have never really played in the back-line, other than one season with Queen’s. I really like playing the role and being deeper where I am able to run off the ball and assist the forward line really suited my game. I would have always said that I was a decent tackler, so it was nice to up that element of my game and do it a bit more frequently.
“So, it was a promising year, but at the end of the day we didn’t win an All-Ireland, so we need to go back to the drawing board a little bit and from an individual perspective, I need to look at what I can do better, and improve on those things. I’m satisfied with my year, but there is more work to do, on a personal level.”
The duo’s individual honours are added to the ever-growing trophy cabinet in the McConville household, as this generation continue to make their mark, and add to the legacy of family name. Cian and Lauren’s father Jim was the first player to captain Crossmaglen to All-Ireland success in 1997, and uncle Oisin famously netted the winning goal for Armagh when they claimed their one and only All-Ireland title win in 2002.
Consequently, there are big boots to fill, and expectations laid upon the siblings when they take to the field in either the colours of Crossmaglen or Armagh, but they believe that their name doesn’t add pressure, but instead inspires them to greatness.
“It’s something I’m very proud of,” said Lauren of her family’s proud GAA heritage.
“I remember watching my father play towards the end of his career, and that made me obsessed with football from a very young age. So, it gives me a sense of pride.
“Does it add pressure? No, I don’t think so. It’s nice to be able to contribute to that name in any way that we can.”
“You’re aware of it when you’re growing up, but you’re always trying to make your own mark,” added Cian.
“I don’t see it as pressure either. I see it as a privilege, and something that you have a responsibility to carry. You want to be the next in line of people with that name who have won something.”
With the return to inter-county action right around the corner, teams are back in training gearing up for 2023, and Lauren has high hopes for the year, believing that after two heart-breaking quarter-final losses in the last two years, Armagh are ready to contend for the All-Ireland title once again.
“There are probably six to eight teams in the Ladies’ Senior Championship that feel as though the All-Ireland is there for the taking,” she said of the upcoming season.
“It was frustrating for us, having worked so hard all year, but it didn’t happen on the day, and I feel as though we left it behind two years in a row. Personally, it really hurt me seeing Meath go on and win the All-Ireland as underdogs, and I probably struggled to get over that mentally a bit.
“But I turned that into motivation, and we tried to kick on last year, but unfortunately came up short again against Kerry, which was another really frustrating loss for us. But this year, we have to learn from that, and take things up another notch.”
Taking over from the outgoing Ronan Murphy in the Armagh hot seat is Shane McCormack, who was part of Murphy’s backroom team in the last two seasons. Lauren believes that McCormack’s already-established familiarity with the team, as well as some new faces, might be the perfect balance for the Orchard girls as they look to push on to greater heights this season.
“Shane is brilliant and having been there a couple of years already he’s very familiar with the girls,” she said.
“He went to plenty of the club championship games and has brought a few new girls on board, which will really push us on. We’re hoping to have a good league campaign, and Shane has brought in new faces to the backroom team, which will hopefully freshen things up, and help us push on.”
Cian also has his sights set on a prosperous 2023. Whilst he has been a starter in the Crossmaglen side for five years now, he is still working his way into being a regular fixture in the Armagh side. In 2022, Cian didn’t start a single competitive match for his county and was limited to substitute appearances. However, after such a dominant year on the club scene, the time is now for him to make his breakthrough – starting with the Dr McKenna Cup in early January.
“That’s the next goal (success with Armagh) – there’s no real break, because you come out of the Cross season and you’re straight back in with Armagh,” he said.
“But I was happy to go straight back in with Armagh, because I loved it last year. So far it has been absolutely gruelling training, but I feel as though I’m benefiting, by getting stronger, fitter and faster every week.
“In my first few years with Cross I was trying to get up to that level where I became one of the main players, and when you get in with Armagh it’s another step up, and you have to start from the bottom again.
“So, that’s the next goal – to try and push on and make a place for myself in the team. If I can do that, then the next step is establishing myself as a key player.
“For anyone who is trying to break into the team, the McKenna Cup is probably the best opportunity to do so – the pre-season fixtures are really important. We’re in Division One, not Two or Three anymore, so you want to already be set by the time the league is starting. So, in the next two or three weeks I’ll be looking to make a good start to the year for myself.”
While Armagh enjoyed their best campaign in over a decade, finishing third in the Allianz Football League, before reaching the quarter-final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, Cian conceded that the team won’t be satisfied, until they start collecting some silverware.
“It’s grand getting all the plaudits and people congratulating you for nearly getting to things – that’s great, and it does push you on, but at the end of the day, in 20 or 30 years’ time, no one is really going to remember that,” he said.
“This current team has been built over the last seven or eight years; yes probably in the last two years we started to show something a bit extra, but it has been building for a long time. So, it probably is about time that we have that coming-of-age season, where we actually put something on the table.
“Everyone has the same mindset; no one is happy to get a pat on the back just for playing for Armagh. We want to push on and have something to show for it.”