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Exciting times for Blackhill Emeralds

Blackhill Emeralds will contest the AIB Ulster Club JFC Final on Saturday.

Blackhill Emeralds will contest the AIB Ulster Club JFC Final on Saturday.

By Cian O’Connell

Matches continue to arrive thick and fast for Blackhill Emeralds, who are embracing the hectic schedule.

Padraig Finnegan’s first year in management has included a Monaghan Junior Championship and League double. Saturday’s AIB Ulster Club JFC decider against a highly regarded Arva outfit is next on the agenda, but Finnegan is relishing the adventure.

“It is really enjoyable, to tell you the truth,” Finnegan responds. “We won the double in Monaghan, now going on to an Ulster Final is something to look forward to. It is a journey that I will remember forever, it is about taking it game by game.

“The time is actually flying, this is going to be our fifth game in six weeks between finals of the Championship, League and two rounds of Ulster. This will be our fifth game in six weeks, so it is shortening the winter for us.”

Finnegan acknowledges the work being carried out throughout the Blackhill Emeralds club on the outskirts of Castleblayney. Building for the future is critical. “It is a very small club with only a few miles radius of a catchment area, it isn't even a parish,” Finnegan explains.

“Really we would be limited with numbers, the underage in the club is only starting to build with U6s, U9s, U11s, and U13s, but some of the older groups have to amalgamate with other clubs for their players. It is growing, it is a club putting in a lot of effort into the juveniles.”

Helping the next generation is vital according to Finnegan. “It is great for the young players because they got to play at half-time in some of the finals and at some of the Championship games we played at home throughout the year, trying to inspire them and get them involved in the club,” he adds.

“They wouldn't have a huge pick, we'd even have a small panel of about 20, 21, 22 players. A lot of nights with other commitments you wouldn't have big numbers at training. What is there is very dedicated and committed within the players group.”

Blackhill Emeralds won a Monaghan Junior Championship and League double.

Blackhill Emeralds won a Monaghan Junior Championship and League double.

Blackhill Emeralds also won Monaghan Junior Championships in 2016 and 2019, while also claiming provincial glory following the second of those triumphs. Ultimately it has been an eventful spell, responding to disappointments important. “It took them quite a while to actually get over the line, to win the Junior Championship initially in Monaghan,” Finnegan says.

“They were after losing a couple of finals, but they finally got over the line in '16. In '19 they won it again and went on to win Ulster that year. So some boys have experience of winning in Ulster, they know the build-up and not to get lost in it.

“They are well focused going into the weekend because we know the challenge that lies ahead of us. It will be an uphill battle with the quality of Arva having a number of county players. The buzz and excitement is around the club, but the boys are focused. They know the task at hand is a great one.”

That Blackhill Emeralds advanced from a tough Championship group in Monaghan mattered deeply in a competitive county. “Very much so, Intermediate and Junior in Monaghan is very close, it is very tight and the standards are raised every year,” Finnegan says.

“Even this year there was a lot more teams in it competing to win the Junior than before because everybody is raising standards and the bar.

“It helped us so much because Monaghan played two groups and we were in a very tough group. When we came through that we were ready for anything that met us.”

Shamrock Park in Roslea provides the backdrop for Blackhill Emeralds latest Ulster decider. Hope is in the air. “It is a dream to be still playing football at this time of the year, there is a great buzz and excitement,” Finnegan responds.

“Obviously, the bunting and flags are going back up again, so we are looking forward to an Ulster Final. It is a great time for the club.”