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Middletown Na Fianna enjoying another hurling adventure

The Middletown Na Fianna team before the 2012 AIB All Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park.

The Middletown Na Fianna team before the 2012 AIB All Ireland Intermediate Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park.

By Cian O’Connell

Middletown Na Fianna’s recent hurling story has been packed with success and silverware, but a return to Croke Park remains the ambition.

Beaten in a gripping 2012 decider by Mount Leinster Rangers, who subsequently played in a senior final at the Jones Road venue, Middletown Na Fianna have remained relevant in Armagh and Ulster.

Five Armagh titles have been gleaned since 2011 and Sunday’s game against Kanturk at St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge will be monitored with interest.

“There is a good buzz around the town and the club at the moment,” Middletown Na Fianna Chairman Damien McGuinness admits.

“We were back there in 2012, we got to the Final, and we just fell short. Maybe a small bit of having very young players caught us, this time they are a small bit more mature.

“Most of the same fellas are involved, bar maybe six or seven, but the bulk of that team would have played in 2012.

“They are all dual players, they all play football and hurling for the club and have done since they were under eights, the whole way through.

“They got to the Quarter-Final of the Armagh Intermediate Football Championship, but were pipped at the post. It is a dual club, there is no distinction between either.”

With five clubs operating in the Armagh County Hurling Championship, McGuinness highlights the investment of  time and energy in the Na Fianna underage ranks as being critical.

Sylvester McConnell made a significant impact as manager of Middletown Na Fianna and Armagh.

Sylvester McConnell made a significant impact as manager of Middletown Na Fianna and Armagh.

“There has been a lot of work put in at underage level in the past 10 or 12 years,” McGuinness acknowledges.

“A lot of hard work has been put in to bring players through and we are starting to reap rewards now a bit from a good structure put in place to help nurture them through to senior level.”

At inter-county level Armagh have made strides in recent years with McGuinness stressing the role occupied by Sylvester McConnell.

“A lot of that would be down to Sylvester McConnell, he is a Middletown man, he was over the team in 2012,” McGuinness states.

“He took on the Armagh job the following year and a lot of the work is down to Sylvester McConnell basically. He got the county into shape again, bringing the level up a notch. He has done a lot of hard work in the last five or six years.”

Armagh’s improvements have aided the growth of the game according to McGuinness. “It does help, it helps them to get more game time and they are playing at a higher level. It has brought them on a bit. You will only get better playing better opposition.

“We have massive numbers from Under 10s down, we could be up on maybe 100 kids Under 8 to Under 10. We have around 105 kids at that level, we have a good crop of players at Under 12, Under 14 would be fielding well, Under 16s at the moment is the only level we wouldn't be too strong.

"At minor level we would be decent enough, but there is a bit of a shortfall at Under 16 at the moment. We might have to amalgamate at Under 16 with another team, we haven't decided on that yet.

“That is the only level where we are a bit light on numbers. We wouldn't be as strong as what is in Armagh underage, Cuchulainns would be stronger at underage.

Kanturk and Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash.

Kanturk and Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash.

“We would be there or thereabouts every year, fighting for Championships, but we are just putting plenty of hard work in at the lower age groups to try to bring it through.”

Middletown Na Fianna’s role in the community is central with McGuinness proud of how are faring. “It is very important for people, we are a dual club, football and hurling is very important.

“We are a small club on the border, we are west Armagh, bordering Monaghan. We have a small enough catchment area, we are not getting players in.

“Whatever you have in your parish, that is who you are trying to get involved. There isn't many players coming in from outside.

“Maybe in other counties you could have a hurling club in one area with five or six football clubs and guys coming in from those clubs. We wouldn't have that luxury. Whatever players we nurture ourselves, that is basically what ends up out on the field.

“There is a good team spirit, a lot of them lads would just know each other the whole way through from underage. They'd be a fairly tight unit. When they go out on the field, they would leave whatever they have there for each other. There would be that sort of spirit among them.”

Decorated Cork players Anthony Nash, Lorcan McLoughlin, and Aidan Walsh are Kanturk’s marquee players, but McGuinness believes Middletown will relish the opportunity.

“We will be massive underdogs, but the lads can only go up to do what they can do,” McGuinness adds. “Like everything else, anything can happen on a given day.

“The Cork team will be hot favourites, we will be massive underdogs. All they can do is go up the road, to give it a shot, and more power to them at this stage. Win, lose, or draw they have done themselves proud.”

That is what Middletown Na Fianna’s crop of players continue to do.