By Shaun Casey
BACK-TO-BACK Minor Championship success have given Clan na Gael “a lift” says skipper Patrick Kelly ahead of Sunday’s Senior Championship decider (BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 4.15pm) with Armagh kingpins Crossmaglen.
A number of youngsters have made the breakthrough this year under the watchful eye of Ronan McMahon, with Callum O’Neill, Jack Lavery and James Austin the standout members of the minor crew.
“Those boys gave us a lift,” said the Clan na Gael defender. “We thought last year we were unlucky against Killeavy and some of those fellas were there watching us. Now we probably wish we had them playing last year.
“The work ethic they have, their attitude, it’s unbelievable. There’s more than just Callum, James and Jack, there’s seven or eight of our minor team that are training with us every week and they’re well fit to play, they’re good players.
“The momentum from the minor win lifted us on again right before the championship, these boys are very good. Hopefully they’ll have long careers in the Clan na Gael team, and they’ll have more than one final in them.”
It’s been 17-years since the Lurgan Blues competed in a championship final. “It’s been a long time since Clan na Gael were in a final and there’s a few of us that played through those many barren years so this is our reward for the hard work we have put in over the last three or four years.
“It’s the game you want to be in at the start of the year. It’s your sole focus and the big target at the top of the goals that you’re writing down in December when you’re doing all that running.
“The club’s on a good high from the minors and the underage teams we’ve got going through at the minute. Even the girls, the u-16 girls team came in with a trophy there and recently and everyone is buzzing.”
There’s a historical nature to Clan na Gael to Crossmaglen, the two leading names at the top of the Armagh roll of honour. Kelly, like many children in both clubs, grew up hearing stories about the great rivalry created between the sides during the 60s and 70s.
“It’s Cross and Clans. I grew up listening to my Da and my Granda and my Uncle Jimmy (Smyth, former Armagh captain) and that’s who you want in the final, you want to beat the best.
“The last couple of years we haven’t really been at that top table with them but there’s been titanic tussles down through the years. The last final we were in was in 2006 and I was a child watching Diarmaid (Marsden) and Bumpy (Barry O’Hagan) play against Cross.
“Cross went on to win and God knows how many they went on to win around then but it’s who you want to play. We’ve actually played them a couple of times in the championship over the last couple of years, so we’ve got to know each other quite well.”