By Shaun Casey
CLANN Éireann II couldn’t have imagined such outstanding progress in a short space of time when they debated whether to enter a junior team into the league and championship for the 2023 campaign.
But now at the business end of the season, the Lurgan lads have reached the Junior Championship final (Saturday, BOX-IT Athletic Grounds 6pm), having already earned promotion from Division 3B in the league.
Previous attempts to enter a seconds team fell flat on their faces a decade ago, but with the emergence of talented youngsters and the willingness of some older heads to continue to fly the flag, everything came together nicely this time around.
“We tried it ten years ago, but I suppose just with the rules of guys moving up (to senior) and not being able to move back down sort of hindered us that year,” explained corner forward Sean Corry, one of themore experienced members of the team.
Throughout the year both senior and junior squads trained together in Clann Éireann, although they’ve broken up during the championship, but that standard of training has only pushed the seconds team on.
With that, the youngsters have a chance to train with some of the best players in the county, namely Armagh stars Conor Turbitt, Tiernan Kelly and Barry McCambridge.
“The numbers we have down at training when we’re training collectively, you maybe have 40 guys training some nights,” added Corry, who fisted a point in their four-point semi-final victory over Thomas Davis.
“Ruairi (Lavery, the senior manager) does his best to manage the numbers and you have Benji (Brian Mallon) and Stevie (McAreavey) as well, trying to integrate some of our minors into the junior team.
“Big Andy Moriarty came on there today, just out of minor, and was throwing himself about and got a score, a real good head on young shoulders there so we have great players to come off the bench and it’s great for the club as a whole.
“You can see that as we have progressed throughout the year. In hindsight we’re looking back at the Division 3B league, we came second, and we were fortunate enough to finish second in the last round of fixtures.
“In reality, I think the team we have now probably would have picked up a few more points along the way so it shows good maturity as the lads are learning and progressing as the year goes on.”
Clann Éireann II now face Ballyhegan in the Junior decider and without doubt, this will be the biggest test they’ve faced all year. Ballyhegan finished second in Division 3A and overcame championship favourites Clonmore to reach the showpiece.
“The only Division 3A team we’ve played this year is Eire Og in the group stages and we were lucky enough to come away with a win that night,” added Corry.
“We’ll dust ourselves down, as a club we have the seniors in the semi-final as well, we’ll get our recovery done, get a few more sessions under our belts and prepare for the game.”