JACK MADDEN: Lesser Spotted Ulster

HANNAH Tyrell has earned the privilege of becoming the final hero of the 2023 inter-county season. The former Ireland international will have the Rugby World Cup to keep herself amused during the off season. That and a seven-week-old child.

The dust begins to settle, and those heroics will slowly fizzle out of relevance. The tumbleweed is on its way to Jones’ Road, where it can loiter unprovoked for months on end. Whose idea was this split season craic again? Fingers crossed for a Garth Brooks’ saga, just to feel something…

It’s funny that the media dries up when in reality, this is the most clustered the fixture list will be all year long. The problem isn’t that there’s no stories, the problem is they’re everywhere. Club championship is here, and it’s hard to know which direction to cast your eye. You just have to dive right in.

The hunger for these championships is truly something else. In Inniskeen in south county Monaghan, Scotstown were knocked off their perch at the weekend. Kieran Hughes, Rory Beggan and Shane Carey were amongst the 2021 champions’ scorers.

Not to mention Jack McCarron, starting his first championship match since a high-profile transfer from junior outfit Currin. But even in a small county like Monaghan, the inter-county status isn’t feared.

The playing field levels off, and in many ways it’s more difficult to make a name on the club scene than anywhere else. Andrew Woods was arguably the star of the show with 0-5, the same man who never got a look in with Monaghan in a successful 2023.

On the topic of transfers, it was Louth midfielder Tommy Durnin who clipped over the insurance score. And now Scotstown will probably be looking for three wins in a row to cement a top two finish, meaning either an automatic semi-final or a home quarter.

Two of those are against Donaghmoyne – who topped the regular SFL – and stalwarts Clontibret. Nothing handy there.

For Inniskeen, the win would not have come as a shock. A strong league saw them qualify for the SFL final, which is pencilled in after the conclusion of the championship.

They are an incredibly well-run club from top to bottom, and they take great pride in annually hosting one of Monaghan’s league matches. Their grounds are immaculate, the best in the county many would argue.

In recent years they have struck a deal with Monaghan GAA for additional coaching in primary schools, with the county board’s development officers making the trip to Patrick Kavanagh country more often than anywhere else as a result. The full benefit of that will only be seen in a decade or so.

Last week, during the final week of the GAA’s Cúl Camps, the seeds were certainly there. So too was DCU student and Monaghan star Seán Jones, or ‘Jonesy’ to the locals. The markers and jerseys were at the ready as 20 odd coaches aimed to curtail 200 kids, with excitement at fever pitch.

On Sunday, on the same grounds, that buzz only grew. If there was ever a time to get Scotstown it would be the first match, but you still have to go and beat them. Grattans have done that. Next is a trip to 2019 Intermediate All-Ireland finalists, and rivals, Magheracloone.

While Croke Park will be out of action, St Tiernach’s Park in Clones continues to thrive even in the club season. Clones, promoted to intermediate level after a run to the 2022 JFC final, have shown their mettle even amongst the big boys.

An outstanding league campaign saw them just miss out on a top two finish, and on Saturday they met Cremartin, the team who finished directly above them in the Intermediate League. Again it was the likes of Fabian Beggan who stood out, a man who was only on the fringes of the county panel.

Despite a Jason Carragher red card, Cremartin came away with the spoils.

The Shamrocks are enjoying a fine season of their own under former Louth ladies’ boss Darren Bishop, despite not having a single senior county player to their name.

An Intermediate League final awaits against neighbours Castleblayney Faughs, the most successful team in Monaghan SFC history by a long shot. They meet in championship before that final and Shamrock Park will be absolutely heaving at the prospect of a repeat victory over Eamon McEneaney’s Faughs, having beaten them in the regular league in July.

‘Blayney will be satisfied with their season to date, particularly after beating Carrickmacross away from home in the league semi-final, a win that perhaps papered over a few cracks of a mixed bag of a campaign.

On Saturday evening against Doohamlet, they had just 0-2 on the board at half time, but rallied in the second to come out 1-7 to 0-14 victors. They boast an exceptionally young team, with Conor Ruddy leading the charge on the scoring front. He is joined by fellow 19-year-old and inter-county hurler Thomas Hughes in the forward line.

It was anticipated that the townie teams of ‘Blayney and Carrick’ would bounce back up to senior level at the first attempt, and while that may still come to pass, they have experienced plenty of difficulty to date.

The way the fixtures are drawn up in Monaghan enables people to go to four championship matches in a weekend, and in all honesty, it’s hard to beat it. Games certainly aren’t under the microscope to the same extent as the first half of the year, but in many ways that’s a good thing.

Club championship is here, and it is genuinely something to treasure.

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