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Latton’s golden period

Ten years ago this month Latton won their third county title in seven seasons to complete a magical few years for the Monaghan club

TEN years ago this month, Owen Duffy kicked an injury time point in the Monaghan county final to complete a remarkable seven years for the Latton club.

That late point in Inniskeen ensured a third county title was secured for the O’Rahilly’s, following up on successes in 2005 and 2008. Remarkably, the club had managed only one senior title prior to that when they defeated the Grattan’s in the 1930 decider.

That success 91 years ago came a year after they had won the Junior Championship – afterwards lost to an objection – and the team was sprinkled with Ballybay county players such as Charlie McCarthy, Peter Duffy and Tommy Bradley.

It would be all Latton men in 2005, but the Ballybay link remained as they were managed by Gerry Connolly.

Like so many championship successes, that first title in 75 years was achieved on the back of incremental progress and a fair share of heartbreak.

The progress came in the form of a first Senior League title in 2003, and retaining it the next year thanks to a late Bernard O’Brien winner against Truagh was a sign of a side that could maintain a presence at the top.

They also had to learn in the face of defeat. In ’03 the club reached their first Senior Championship final since 1996 and only their third decider ever.

Dreams would turn to a nightmare though as Castleblayney – their final conquerors seven years previously – won 0-10 to 0-6.

Owen Lennon wore number eight that day and formed a midfield partnership with Martin Duffy, but they were unable to produce the goods in the second half in front of a large Clones crowd.

Things were looking good when Latton moved 4-1 ahead after 26 minutes, but they would be outscored 0-9 to 0-2 from there on in.

Those final wins in the league and that loss in ’03 were all helpful to the team’s progression, Lennon said.

“Between league and championship that team must have played in nine or 10 finals,” said the current Latton manager.

“We won our three championships, we won a couple of leagues as well. We were out in the country and there was nothing else going on, just training and playing and trying to win as much as we could.

“They were great times but when you’re in the middle of it you don’t expect it to ever end but, unfortunately, it did in 2011. That was out last success.”

Back the side would come after that 2003 disappointment. Beaten semi-finalists in 2004, they were determined to make amends the following season.

The first round provided the perfect launchpad as they came face to face with ‘Blayney once more, and Owen Duffy’s late point would earn their spot in the next round.

That first match took place in May, but with Seamus McEnaney’s side having a fine season on the intercounty stage, it would be August until the side were back in action against Clontibret when they needed a replay and extra-time in the second game to progress.

A victory over holders Magheracloone followed before a semi-final with Clontibret – the third match between the clubs in the 2005 championship.

Latton would succeed thanks to goals from Finbar Fitzpatrick and Bernard O’Brien to set up another meeting with Magheracloone.

Having faltered in the second half two years previously, they were like men possessed in the second half hour here as they turned a two-point interval deficit into a four-point win to spark wild celebrations.

“I put a lot of our success in that time down even to our primary schools and the links there,” Lennon continued.

“There was massive interest in the primary school and it built onto the club. We were just developing young players all the time.

“Then we had the older guys there too, the likes of Kevin Hughes and Finbar Fitz’. They had been the nearly team coming up but thankfully it all gelled together and we got that success.

“I don’t think Kevin won anything with Latton until his 30s and then obviously that first championship came.”

As is often the case with sides that win their first county title in so long, the Ulster Club series is not on the radar.

In November 2005 they were pitted against a Cavan Gaels outfit that had just completed four from five in the Breffni county. Not surprisingly, that provincial experience shone through as they won 0-12 to 1-7 in Enniskillen.

This would be no one-time effort from Latton though, and in 2008 they would get their hands on the Mick Duffy Cup once again. Another league had been added in ’06, but avoiding being a one-time hit in the championship arena was a massive motivation.

Rarely has a championship win produced so much blood, sweat and tears and Lennon knows that more than most having captained the side.

In round one they needed a replay to get past Inniskeen with a dominant performance seeing them through the second day. Monaghan Harps were a tough nut to crack next, but the veteran Kevin Hughes came up with a match-winning score.

Another draw followed with holders Clontibret but they looked set to get the job done in the replay only for Fergal Mone to hit a late, late goal to send Latton into the backdoor.

David Nelson’s men bounced back and dug out a win against Magheracloone and they needed a replay to get past ‘Blayney in the semi-final – 2-6 to 0-11.

That set up another final appearance and this time it was Carrickmacross standing in their way.

It was score for score until the final moments but three unanswered points from James Connolly, Lennon and Bernard O’Brien sealed a 0-15 to 0-11 triumph, and that second crown.

Once again, an Ulster Club win eluded the side as Derry champions Ballinderry defeated them 1-11 to 0-10 with Raymond Wilkinson grabbing the crucial goal, but a team trip to Barcelona two months later did soften the blow and allowed them to reflect on another magical year.

After an emphatic final defeat to Clontibret in 2009, Latton would return in 2011 to win their third county title and, crucially, they would also secure a first-ever Ulster Club victory for the O’Rahilly’s.

The Monaghan campaign started with a hard-fought win over Doohamlet, the 2010 intermediate winners, and ended with a narrow final victory over Scotstown.

Scotstown may have won six titles since, but they headed into that final aiming for their first championship success since 1993.

They had only been in one final in between – a 2004 loss to Magheracloone – so the big-game experience belonged to their opponents.

That was almost certainly the difference as Finbar Fitzpatrick’s side won out 1-6 to 0-8.

Scotstown had their noses ahead for three quarters of the game but Hugh McElroy’s penalty evened things up. With the game in the balance in the final moments Owen Duffy, not for the first time, would step up to kick a winner.

That secured entry once again to the Ulster series, and Lennon said the attitude was different.

“Those first couple of goes in the Ulster Club, you know yourself, we hadn’t won a championship in 70-odd years so it wasn’t a priority,” he said.

“That third time we got there, we said to ourselves that we wanted to give it a good rattle.”

And they certainly achieved that as the club headed en-masse to Ballybofey as they prepared to face Donegal champions Glenswilly.

Lennon was inspired form in the middle as he dominated possession and also kicked two points for the side. That was as much as Michael Murphy managed too, and those two factors were crucial in helping the Oriel club to a 0-10 to 0-9 win.

“It was a massive win for us,” Lennon said. “Glenswilly, Michael Murphy’s team, to take a wain away from that was a brilliant experience. That was a massive highlight for the club and the players.”

Thoughts of an Ulster final came into view, but a two-point semi-final defeat to Down outfit Burren ended those ambitions.

“Burren in Armagh, we had a couple of boys injured and if you had a full deck you don’t know where you would have ended up,” Lennon added.

In December of that year, the club produced a DVD looking back at their successes over the years – and the previous seven seasons ensured that there was plenty of content to digest.

It was a golden period for the club, one where they stormed to the top of the pile in the Oriel county and stayed there.

Lennon is hoping to bring glory days like those back as manager of the team currently but, regardless of what the future holds, those couple of seasons will live long in the memories of the players and fans.

“There are a lot of lads coming to 18, 19, 20. Near half our lads are u-21,” Lennon said.

“There is a good crop coming so we just need to try and build and see where we can go in the future.”

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