Club Focus: Madden Raparees on the rise

FOR the majority of GAA clubs, with a few notable exceptions, their history timeline follows a familiar pattern. It’s a simple formula. There are periods when things are looking good, and there are maybe decades when things are difficult. Right now, the Madden Raparees can be confident that they are about to hit possibly the biggest peak in their club’s history.

The Armagh club are in their 85th year of existence and it’s quite obvious that they are a coming force both on and off the pitch. A senior team making great strides, an underage structure that is starting to reach new heights and plenty of other reasons to be happy, such as Scór na nÓg Ulster glory in 2018.

The club currently has 332 members and over half of those are youth members. Never has the club been as fully stocked, and they are immensely proud of that achievement.

Even founding members Austin McKeown, Pat Grimley and Barney Grimley surely could not have envisaged that the club would become such a cornerstone of the community.

The year 1933 sits on the club crest but the foundation really gathered pace in 1934, which timed nicely with Armagh’s GAA golden jubilee celebrations on September 16 of that year.

A crowd of 20,000 from Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan, Antrim and Down gathered at the Athletic Grounds for a day of festivities and club members proudly marched in a procession through the Cathedral city under the ‘Madden Bands’ banner.

Pádraig MacNamee, the south Armagh born man who would become President of the GAA four years later, told the crowd that “a real Gaelic club must be much more than a playing team” and how Madden have listened to that advice.

Paddy Grimley, the current club secretary, spoke about the community ethos they try to adhere to.

I’m running the risk of sounding a bit obvious here, but I’m a great believer that the GAA is crucial to any community, but very much so in Madden,” he said.

Whether it be a senior game or u-7.5 training or even the camogie, you’ll never see an evening when people don’t call down to Raparee Park to cheer on their family and friends.”

The club’s youth participation continues to blossom and this year they can boast 180 juvenile members.

They have key aims for the children, and they don’t necessarily revolve around winning. Learning the skills, getting the opportunity to play the sport and, most importantly, to have fun.

This ideology, the club believes, will create lifelong bonds that will be beneficial for all. The club currently fields male football teams from u-6 to senior level while plenty of young girls are playing between u-6 to u-11.5.

Camogie is a big pull in the area through the St Joseph’s club with a great rivalry present between Madden and neighbours Granemore and Ballymacnab. Madden were top of the pile in 2014 and ’15 as they completed a brilliant back-to-back in the Armagh Senior Camogie Championship.

The senior football team has really pushed on since their fourth Intermediate title in 2013.

They had won the competition previously in 1964, ’70 and ’94, the latter of those coming a year after a Junior success in 1993. They also lifted the Junior title in 1953.

They have made the last eight of the Senior Championship for the last four years, twice losing by a point while this year they lost out to Pearse Og on penalties. The fact that they were involved in history – the first championship game to be decided by penalties in the Orchard county – offered little consolation, but they are now a firmly established top-tier team with serious ambition of securing a spot in the Senior A league in the coming weeks. They were Senior finalists once previously in 1998, and they are sure to be big players in the championship for years to come.

All this buzz is only possible by the efforts of a diligent committee and a hard-working panel of coaches and volunteers. There’s always room for more help, of course.

Inspiration is not hard to find. The club has been served by some unbelievable members and they, in turn, have led the way for others.

The late Eugene Grimley and Charlie McGuinness, Pat Grimley, who passed earlier this year, Benny McCusker, Brendan and Paul Vallely, Anthony Mallon, Danny Donnelly, Conall Rafferty, Joe Smith, Brian Grimley and current chairman Tom Morgan. Just some of the many who have contributed greatly.

The thousands of hours of effort that people like those and many others have put in have laid the foundation for what the club is today.

In recent years with the addition of social media and also WhatsApp, clubs have a great platform to communicate very well with their members, whether it be for fixtures, results, photos, etc – and Madden are active in embracing the ever-changing technology.

This all helps to keep the club bond strong but, of course, running costs continue to grow and grow, so they can never rest on their laurels.

One of the proudest days in the club’s recent history was the visit of then GAA President Aogán Ó Fearghail in 2017.

The Cavan man made a number of presentations on the night to Stephen O’Reilly, goalkeeper on the 2009 Armagh All-Ireland Minor winning side, Kevin McElvanna, a Sam Maguire winner with Armagh in 2002, Benedict McCusker, who has been invaluable in driving on the cultural side of the club, and finally to the Madden President, the late Charlie McGuinness, to mark the occasion.

In Madden, community spirit comes from the top down. During lockdown, the senior players completed a combined 200k run and raised £5,800. Over 200 care packages were then delivered to key workers in the area, as well as the elderly and more vulnerable with over 50 volunteers helping out.


Scór success adds another string to the bow

FOR a sign of how serious the Madden club takes the Scór competitions, you simply have to look at its club crest. There are four emblems on there like a compass, and sitting at the south point is the word ‘Scór’ and a fiddle.

The decision to opt for a musical symbol rather than dancing shoes or a quiz sheet has proven quite fitting as it’s in the Ceol Uirlise (instrumental) discipline where they have enjoyed some great success recently.

That’s down to the team of Eimear McGeary, Danu McKinney, Róise McGeary, Rioghnach McKinney and Cadhla Tohill who have helped deliver two Armagh titles and an Ulster Championship since 2018.

In February 2019, the quintet represented their club, county and province at the All-Ireland finals in Castlebar. A very proud day for the club.

Catherine Grimley-Hughes, who twice appeared on Irish TV show The Voice, was also another notable Scór competitor for the club.

Benedict McCusker is the current club cultural officer and current club President and the McCusker name has long been associated with the song and dance activities in Madden. Benedict has been a real driving force for these activities over the years. He is also the grandfather of all five of the girls who took two county titles and a provincial trophy to the club in 2018 and ’19.


Underage structures

hitting new heights

WHO better than Kevin McElvanna to act as the club’s Coaching and Games Officer? McElvanna is one of the most famous names in the club’s history having been part of the Armagh 2002 squad that took the Sam Maguire to the Orchard county for the first and only (to date anyway) time.

The player would be first to state that this is very much a team effort. Madden traditionally have operated in the lower levels of underage football, but the dial has definitely turned in recent years due to great coaches and enthusiastic players.

The highlight undoubtedly was the u-16 Armagh Championship secured in 2018. It was the first division one title secured by the Raparees and is serving as inspiration for the great talent coming behind them.

Mickey Grimley, Tony McElvanna and Barry Mallon were in charge of the side and the fact that they defeated Clann Eireann in the final was interesting as the Lurgan side have been the standard –bearers for good underage progress over the last decade in Armagh.

Their reward included not only the cup and history, but also admission to the prestigious Paul McGirr Ulster u-16 competition hosted by the Dromore club in Tyrone.

They fell to an extremely-talented Lavey from Derry in the quarter-final, but the experience was invaluable. That year the side claimed the Armagh Underage Club of the Year award for that u-16 success and for also claiming the u-18 Division Two Championship.

The future, as they say, is bright around Madden.


Armagh club to plan for the future

IT’S hard to miss Raparee Park on the Monaghan Road in Armagh with the back of the clubhouse almost hugging the road, but the club are facing an issue when it comes to their facilities – they are a victim of their own success.

As the club continues to take strides forward, the numbers requiring field and changing facilities increases at a steady rate.

One of the main projects for the club committee in the coming years will be to establish ways to meet the demand.

That’s not to say that they haven’t impressive facilities currently. They have a full-sized main pitch with a digitally modern scoreboard and then a medium-sized back pitch. The St Joseph’s camogs also use the grounds, so there is often a logjam and solutions will be required.

The club’s social club was redeveloped in 2009 and is a great venue to watch sport on TV and have a bit of craic.

Any future development will, of course, require plenty of funding and the club are encouraging members and supporters to join up to the ‘Cairde na Ropairí’ scheme. This package includes a number of perks including free entry to home games and entry into the club’s lotto.


Senior team make history

in 1998

THE 1998 season is still something that lives fondly in the memory of Madden folk as the senior football team went on an amazing run to reach their first, and to date only, Senior Championship final.

Despite operating in the old Division Three, the side beat Keady and Carrickcruppen in the early rounds to get a bit of momentum built up.

A semi-final with Cullyhanna awaited. On a Sunday evening double-bill at the Athletic Grounds, first blood went to south Armagh as Culloville defeated Clann Eireann to reach the Intermediate final, but in the main event Madden’s incredible run continued as they denied their opponents who were also aiming for a first final appearance at that level.

Crossmaglen awaited in the final at the Athletic Grounds on September 20 with the Rangers aiming for three in-a-row.

Oisin McConville converted two penalties as Cross’s experience told, and they won 2-16 to 0-9 to end Madden’s dreams of the title. But what a season they had.

These days, rather than being a once in a lifetime event, a run to the final is a real possibility in the coming years. The men of 1998 will always provide inspiration.


Madden players have represented their county and country

MADDEN has had a long association with the Armagh team, but current senior player Niall Grimley went one better in 2017 when he represented Ireland in the International Series in Australia.

It was a great reward for a player who has become one of the most important in Kieran McGeeney’s first 15 with his high-fielding a real treat for watching fans.

Since a young lad, Niall did all the things that a player should do. He worked hard in his garden with his ball, he listened at training and he had fun with his teammates.

Now he is looked upon as an inspiration by younger members in the club who love seeing him play in the Athletic Grounds.

That will provide inspiration for the other players who want to follow their dreams.

There are a host of other players who have earned notoriety in the club over the decades, not least the great Jimmy Whan. An Allstar in 1965, the Anglo Celt newspaper once described him as “Armagh’s usual star man” and his Railway Cup appearances were further proof of that.

Kevin McElvanna is the only Madden man with a Celtic Cross in his back pocket. A popular figure in the Orchard county dressing room, he also ended his career with three Ulster titles to his name.

Peter Fegan may have started out as a Craobh Rua player but he soon joined the Madden club to line out alongside his cousins, the Woods and O’Hagan brothers. He was a star on the side’s 1953 Junior Championship success. He may not have played for Armagh or even his native Meath, but he is a notable player in the Madden history.

One of Fegan’s teammates, Art O’Hagan, did represent Armagh and was part of the team that reached the 1948 All-Ireland Junior final. He played a prominent role as the Orchard county won their first provincial title in 1950.

Armagh’s 2009 All-Ireland Minor success was only the second in their history and their first since 1949. Stephen O’Reilly was in nets for the journey as the Orchard county produced some scintillating football en-route to the title.

By Niall McCoy

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