FEATURE: Town teams are changing the stereotype

By Niall McCoy

“GET under their skin lads, townie teams won’t want to know when the pressure is on.” A team-talk that everyone from a rural club is bound to have heard at one stage or another.

Those of an urban persuasion often have had stereotypes to contend with, a notion that they don’t have the stomach for the fight while the country boys have it in spades.

In 2019, as Warrenpoint came so close to a first Down title since 1953 as they lost out by a point to a Kilcoo side that would go all the way to the All-Ireland final, then manager Niall McAleenan addressed the issue.

“Sometimes people looking from afar can have that perception (of softness), but time after time we’ve asked questions of them and they’ve stood up,” said the recently-appointed Granemore manager.

That perception has had holes punched through it in recent weeks as town teams have made strides across Ulster.

In Donegal, Letterkenny-based St Eunan’s completed a remarkable football and hurling double while Maghera were celebrating in Derry as Glen, Watty Graham’s secured a first Senior title. Enniskillen Gaels are in the Fermanagh final this weekend for the first time since 2006.

At the weekend past, Lurgan outfit Clann Eireann defeated Crossmaglen in the Armagh final after dominating their opponents in the final quarter. It should be noted that they finished strongly in their wins over Maghery and Ballymacnab too. So much for wilting under the pressure.

Watty Graham’s PRO Conor Molloy disputes the belief that is held in Derry that they are a ‘townie’ team, instead seeing them as having a great mix of town and rural, but he said that regardless of any label attached to them, Malachy O’Rourke’s side is laced with a stubbornness and resilience not defined by location.

“People talk about townie teams but I don’t think we are, we have a great mix,” said Molloy.

“A good chunk of the panel would be out in the country, Michael Warnock lives at one end of the Glen Road and the Bradleys and the Dohertys live at the other.

“Regardless, a post code does not define your footballing ability. Having the town and the catchment area certainly hasn’t held us back in bringing those good minors through.

“There’s country clubs near us that haven’t won a championship in a generation so I don’t see the town being a factor.

“We’re just lucky with the group of lads we have and in all aspects of the club we seem to have our ducks in a row. The committee, the players, everything.

“Our players have won everything at underage and, to be honest, the senior was a monkey on the back. I think it was Conor Carville who said he had every medal in the GAA pinned to his wall and that was the one missing. Nothing was going to stop them this year.”

The Lurgan area faces many threats to the stability of young people in the town, with drugs and alcohol very high on the list.

Eleven years ago, Clann Eireann were one of four clubs in the area to link up to present workshops on the dangers of those vices.

Rivals on the pitch, they knew that these issues were more important than results and, with assistance from Operation Youth, they, along with Clan na Gael, St Paul’s and St Peter’s reached out to 12 to 18-year-olds with current Louth manager Mickey Harte also addressing the crowd.

Now a vibrant GAA town, there seemed to be a lot genuine well wishes from their traditional rivals ahead of the Crossmaglen match with many people from surrounding clubs hoping for a double given that Aghagallon, situated on the outskirts of Lurgan, were facing Creggan in the Antrim final on the same day.

Clann Eireann manager Tommy Coleman spoke afterwards about how the win was something special not only for their club, but for the entire Lurgan community.

“No question about it, this is massive for Clann Eireann but it’s also massive for the entire Lurgan community,” he told Armagh TV.

“First of all I would like to thank all the well wishes that I’ve had right through the Lurgan community. Every club has been on to me, they’ve been phoning me.

“It lifts the whole profile of Gaelic football. Years ago we were sometimes called a soccer town, that’s not the case anymore.

“We have a thriving GAA family and yes, we are the best of rivals, that’s what we are at the moment, but the support that we have had and the good will, it’s been tremendous.

“I think every club can feed off that and say ‘well if Clann Eireann can do it there’s no reason why we can’t.’”

It’s quite fitting that the Ulster Club throws in this weekend with St Eunan’s v Glen, Letterkenny v Maghera. The urban development is starting to take shape.

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