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New kings Maghery hail their greatest ever day

By Declan Bogue

Published 18/10/2016

Winning feeling: Maghery ace Aidan Forker had a key role in his club being crowned Armagh champions for the first time
Winning feeling: Maghery ace Aidan Forker had a key role in his club being crowned Armagh champions for the first time

Maghery chairman Sean Cushnahan knew he was part of a special day already, but an occurrence on Sunday evening was "something you might never, ever see again".

The bus carrying the Maghery players, who had won the first Armagh Championship in their history only a couple of hours before with victory over Cullyhanna, came to a halt outside the clubhouse of their neighbours, Clonmore (who won the Junior Championship on Sunday by beating the same opposition), and blew the horn.

Before long, Maghery and Clonmore players were dancing on the road together, celebrating their senior and junior titles in a hail of champagne.

"My philosophy on the whole thing would be that much can be achieved when nobody takes the credit," answered Cushnahan when asked what it meant to be the chairman when the Gerry Fagan Cup finally arrived.

It was with a spring in his step that he walked into his workplace, Powerscreen in Coalisland, yesterday morning. His club are now champions, while the Coalisland Na Fianna contingent have to wait until this Friday night for the rescheduled Tyrone final.

The last time we checked in on the Maghery club was back in January, when the high water levels of Lough Neagh crept into their ground, destroying sheds full of equipment, heating boilers and spreading raw sewage.

Now, they are celebrating their greatest ever season.

Maghery ace Aidan Forker estimates with a laugh there must be "six or seven" Forkers on the team, along with another cousin, Eoin Scullion.

"It was a special day," he reflected. "A childhood dream for all of us boys growing up has come true. To get over the line was a big thing for this team and this community, so we are proud men. People travelled home from Sydney, New York and everywhere. The place just went mad for a few hours after!"

Over the past couple of weeks the club were caught up in a whirl of hype at the prospect of their first county final since 1993, but Forker reveals that manager Shane McConville had the perfect solution, relocating the training to his home club of St Paul's, Lurgan.

"We were nearly afraid that it might have affected our boys, focus-wise. But Shane was excellent. He spoke really well through the week. He kept our boys grounded," said Forker.

At the start of the year, as captain James Lavery acknowledged after the win, there were a few smart remarks made to the Maghery players as they embarked upon a winter training programme with their running coach, the former middle-distance prospect Gary O'Hanlon, who was set to take up an athletics scholarship with Iona College in America before he fell victim to a road accident while out on a training run in 1992.

"The plan was to peak for Championship final day and that's the way it worked out. The boys just trusted the process," Forker continued.

"There was a lot of hard work done. Obviously there was more sense to it than we even knew because Gary does this for a living.

"It worked in the end. The buy-in was there and I think that's half the battle.

"The boys are the most honest bunch of lads you could ever play or train with. We have reaped the rewards of that."

Cushnahan raises a valid point when he points out that people marvel at Crossmaglen's ability to come back year after year to achieve success.

"But you could ask the same about our lads - Cross just get the medals," he said.

By the three final sweet peeps from Paudie Hughes' whistle on Sunday, that all changed for Maghery. Their people took over the county ground.

"I know a couple of stewards at the Athletic Grounds and they came over to me yesterday and said, 'Sean, when the pitch empties, just lock the gate', because they couldn't get the Maghery people off the field!" laughed Cushnahan.

After the laughing and the bear hugs and back slaps, it was back to their modest grounds for a celebratory dinner. Someone had the idea of bringing the cup over to the graveyard to set on former members' resting places as the sun crept out and bathed the shore.

Forker said: "There are a lot of deceased members of our club who would have been proud men.

"We shared a moment afterwards when the cup came home. We brought it across to a few graves of people who were good Maghery men and had a quiet moment there."

In under two weeks' time, they meet whoever wins the Cavan final between Ramor United and Castlerahan in the All-Ireland.

"When we are in it, we might as well have a go," said Forker.

Indeed they will.

Belfast Telegraph

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