Ryan Keenan bidding to lead Loughmacrory Under 16s to 1st Grade 1 Juvenile triumph
Loughmacrory St. Teresa’s will in many ways enter unchartered territory on Sunday as it will be the first occasion the club will have a team involved on county Senior Football Final Day at Healy Park and the club will also be contesting a Grade 1 Juvenile Championship final for the first time.
Exciting times indeed and testament to the huge work being done by the St. Teresa’s club at underage level with this particular group of players having already completed a “first” when they became the first team from the club to complete a league and championship double in the same season when they collected in the Grade 2 under 14 arena in 2013.
To date the club have contested two Grade 1 finals, the 1998 Minor Grade 1 League final (losing narrowly to an impressive Ardboe minor team) and of course then winning that Under 21 Grade 1 Championship title, when defeating Errigal Ciaran in the final at Fintona.
The club’s current Under 16 manager, Ryan Keenan, was a very young member of that Under 21 championship squad back in 2003 and was at the helm of the Under 14 side which captured the Under 14 Grade 2 league and championship double in 2013.
Ryan, like the countless other players who have enjoyed and celebrated with the St. Teresa’s club over the years, has very fond memories of footballing life in Loughmacrory.
“I started playing football around 10 years of age in the club when John O’Brien would have coached us and probably first really got introduced to it in the school with Seamus Mullan as our coach. Coming up through juvenile levels I played along with Gerard Donaghy and Mark McCrystall and players that would really have stood out in teams I would have played in would have been Ciaran Ward and Stephen Donaghy at juvenile level. I would have looked up to players such as Ciaran Meenagh, Mickey McGee and Raymond Ward and my strongest memory would still be the homecoming with the All Ireland Minor Cup in 1998 with the three of them. Ronan Ward, Mark McCullagh and Paul Kelly would have been players in underage teams up ahead of me who I would really have looked up to as well as they were class players and always produced for the teams in games they played in.”
At 17 years of age Ryan graduated into the Loughmacrory senior squad and it wasn’t long before he had made his way into the Loughmacrory goalkeeping role, making his debut against Moortown.
“I came into the senior team at 17 in my last year of minors and made my debut as goalkeeper for the Seniors when I was 21 against Moortown in the league. Winning the Division 3 league in 2013 would be the stand-out memory as it was very important as we had been relegated just twelve months earlier and needed to get back up to Division 2. That was our big target that year to get back up out of junior football although we were disappointed that we then lost out in the Championship final to Killeeshil so narrowly. We would still look back on that final as one that got away. That year, 2013, was very significant for myself and the club though as we completed the league and championship double that year with the under 14 team in grade 2. That was the first time the club had done any double in the same year and the significance of it is now hopefully beginning to make it’s mark with everyone”
That was undoubtedly a very special year for the club and was possibly the first real occasion this particular group of players had really made their mark on the big stage within the county. Yes the players had been impressing coming up through Under 8 and under 10 grades in blitzes but now they had combined to win all before them in what was an unbeaten year on the playing field for the team. Indeed, it was significant that they overcame teams like Killeeshil who went on to grade 1 league and championship success in 2014 at under 14 level and have been one of the biggest challengers in under 16 grade 1 level in 2015. Omagh, who Loughmacrory defeated to win that Under 14 double in 2013 have also gone on to win the Grade 2 Under 16 honours in the past week so the form does stack up.
While Loughmacrory were winning the Grade 2 honours in 2013, this sunday’s opposition, Dromore, were emphatic winners of the Grade 1 Under 14 league and Feile titles before suffering a very surprise defeat to Ardboe in the Under 14 Grade 1 Championship final. The St. Dympna’s side have had an almost identical path to date in 2015 at Under 16 level, having boasted an unbeaten league and championship run and making it into the final of both the league and championship. Within that run included two victories over Loughmacrory and that will mark them down as favourites for the title on Sunday.
Ryan though is certainly filled with pride and optimism when talking about this particular group of players from the club as they eye up their own piece of history again on Sunday in Healy Park against undoubtedly the best side in the grade this year, Dromore.
“I first took over in 2012 with the team at under 13 level and we showed solid form all year but lost to Ardboe eventually in the league semi final. They were very strong both in quality and physically compared to us at that time and they went on to win the Grade 1 Under 14 championship title a year later, beating this Dromore team in the final, which was deemed a shock at the time. Despite what others were saying at the time, I still knew there was something special about this particular group of players. Their willingness to work hard and go the extra yard to succeed and of course there are natural footballers all through the team too. From Under 13 level i 2012 it was clear that Colm, Conall and Cathair stood out as real leaders on the field and they still do. By the time we were winning in the under 14 grade suddenly a lot of players were growing and getting stronger and by that stage 7 or 8 players were now willing to lead and step up to the mark. I think it really started to become very clear that this was an exceptionally good side when we beat Edendork in the league quarter final that year. They were unbeaten and being tipped by everyone at the time so I knew it was big year when we won that one so well and then to beat Omagh in loughmacrory by a big margin cemented it. Going on then and winning the double was very significant as it was a first and the players were unfazed by it. There is no doubt we were immediately starting to think about 2 years down the line and the grade 1 Under 16 championship.”
And so, after a terrific season in which there have been a host of injuries and players missing in key games, the team have continued to progress and gelled together again at the most opportune time of all in the campaign to maintain an impressive run of form in championship football. History beckons but this will undoubtedly be the toughest test that the Loughmacrory under 16 team have faced in the season to date.
The campaign began with a 2-15 to 1-5 win over Newtownstewart (away) before a first defeat came on a 4-13 to 2-9 scoreline at the hands of Errigal Ciaran (away). A great run of form then followed as Loughmacrory defeated Carrickmore at Colmcille Pairc by 4-10 to 4-5 and then overcame Killyclogher away by 2-14 to 3-9. Then came the 1-15 to 2-10 win against Errigal Ciaran and a 5-14 to 3-10 win against Newtownstewart. That latter game against Newtown’ epitomised their never-say-die attitude as Newtown hit three late goals to go five points ahead going into the last five minutes of play but the Loughmacrory lads then hit 4-3 without reply in the final minutes to run out ten point winners. There were then two defeats against Dromore in the league which most will look at ahead of Sunday’s game, with Dromore winning 5-23 to 0-4 in Loughmacrory and then 5-10 to 1-12 in Dromore. However there were significant reasons for both. A 5-8 to 3-13 defeat to Carrickmore then followed which meant a quarter final showdown with an unbeaten Killeeshil side who topped Grade 1A. That proved to be a most dramatic game at Killeeshil and one which Loughmacrory should really have one but missed chances and late controversy saw Killeeshil win though by a single point.
Significantly it was just five days after the one point league defeat to Killeeshil that the teams met again in the Championship quarter final in Loughmacrory. This time around it was Killeeshil who missed a series of chances late on while Loughmacrory showed great championship composure to deliver outstanding late points from Aidan Donaghy and Conall Grimes to win through by a single point. Then of course came that sensational comeback against Dungannon on Saturday last which saw a fourteen point turnaround in the second half for Loughmacrory to prevail and book their place in the championship decider. Ryan is very much of the opinion that this current team really have shown their very best form when it comes to championship.
“We have shown our strength in the championship and some league results have shown how important it has been for us to be at full strength. We were missing players for the two matches we lost to Dromore but they looked extremely good in those games and all through the season so we’re definitely up against it. All the same we go into Sunday’s game ready for that test and I believe we are up for this challenge. Championship is were it matters and this group of players have shown they can win big championship games and finals. Looking back this year I have no doubt that the two Killeeshil games were the making of us. When we met them initially at that stage they were the top team in the grade as they were the only ones with a 100% record. We could’ve won the first day we met and when we beat them then in the championship, big things were expected. The Dungannon game though is undoubtedly the best game I have ever been involved in. That trait this team possesses of their never-say-die attitude, which has always been there, stood out by a mile. They just never panic and that has been a big thing about this team.”
So Sunday is just days away now for Loughmacrory and a County Grade 1 Under 16 Championship final appearance. A big test awaits but the entire community will be out in full force for one of the biggest games in the club’s history. The support will be vital too if the team is to deliver on the big day! And of course there is the fact that the team could be paraded pre match by the Loughmacrory Band who will be in Healy Park on Sunday to lead the teams for the Senior Championship final too.
“The support all year for the team has been great and against Dungannon the Loughmacrory support really did push us over the line. When we started to get a few scores in the second half the noise from the supporters really lifted the whole squad and I would urge the Loughmacrory community to come out and do the same again for us on Sunday. This is a massive game and Healy Park is a big place so we will need that support. To the lads I can only say now to go out and enjoy the day. Go out and do what your good at. I would urge supporters to believe in them and get behind them. We’re up against it and every voice will count on Sunday as it did against Dungannon.”
Mark the date and time…
Sunday 11th October 2015
Healy Park, Omagh
Loughmacrory Squad: Aaron Curran, Kevin Coyle, Cian McGaughey, Liam Donaghy; Colm Logue, Conall Grimes, Antoin Fox; Shane Grimes and Arnoldas Macidulskas; Ronan Curran, Aidan Donaghy, Nathan O’Brien; Diarmaid Gallagher, Cathair Gallagher, Dara Curran, Pearse Dobbs, Conor Gallagher, Jack Conway, Patrick Curran, Dermot O’Donnell, Villius Macidulskas, Noel Gallagher.
Management: Ryan Keenan, Stephen Conway, Malachy Coyle, Pauric Meenagh