By Michael McMullan
HARD work has been the key for Clonoe as they turned two 2021 semi-final defeats into a march to Sunday’s Ulster final, insists captain Orlagh Gavin.
After their formation in 2016, Clonoe won the junior title 12 months and stayed in the intermediate grade until relegation at the end of the 2018 season before bouncing back this year with a league and championship double.
“We had youth teams right up until minor and a few of the older girls had played for Dungannon, but they came back once we had enough for a senior team,” Gavin explained.
They follow in the footsteps of Moortown who lost last year’s Ulster final when Carrickmacross snatched victory with the last kick of the game.
Clonoe lost to Kildress in last year’s Tyrone league and championships with one and two-point margins respectively.
Their luck changed this season with their deserved promotion back to intermediate level for 2023 under the guidance of their management team consisting of Conrad Quinn, Marty McStravick and Paul O’Neill.
“It was more hard work,” the skipper said of the difference since last year with 12 months of graft in the bodies.
“We trained hard over the winter and had a running programme. The players bought into it and the management have been very good.”
The success was well worth the wait. With 1-6 from their captain, Clonoe were 3-10 to 0-6 winners over Loughmacrory to kick-start the celebrations.
“We had so many supporters and all the underage girls were all there with their banners and face paint. It was unreal for them as well…it brought everyone together.” Gavin said of the winning feeling.
When the days of partying were parked, there was the realisation of an Ulster title being within their grasp. The title of county champions brought a confidence, but the sleeves were rolled up again.
Their hard work continued with a “game by game” approach to Ulster. A penalty put them on their way against Cavan champions Lavey before needing a second-half goal to settle the nerves in a 2-8 to 1-5 win.
Clonoe found themselves eight points to the good in their semi-final with Derrynoose but needed to dig deeper in the closing stages after finding themselves a point in arrears.
“We knew it was never going to be easy in the second half because they had come back in their semi-final with Clonmore in Armagh and that they were a second-half team,” Gavin said.
“So we had to settle down and calm ourselves. In the last 10 minutes we got back in the driving seat and got three good scores.”
It leaves Clonoe confident in their battling qualities going into Sunday’s clash with Castleblayney.
“We have had a few scraps this year and it builds a bit of character in our team and we have had to dig that bit deeper to try and get out of it,” she added.
“We’ll have to do the same this week and set our sights on ‘Blayney to see what can happen.”
Beyond Sunday, Clonoe will hope their run in Ulster will help bridge the gap to being a regular intermediate team and following in Moortown’s footsteps of back-to-back successes.
“There is not a massive difference in the ability of teams in junior and intermediate and it will definitely give us a boost,” Gavin concludes.
“It brings those girls from u-16 and minor on, and I think we have inspired them to work hard, dream big and hopefully someday they’ll have silverware as well.”