By Daire Walsh
She is hopeful that a long career as an inter-county footballer is ahead of her, but rising star Caitriona O’Hagan believes that winning a Armagh senior championship title with Carrickcruppen later on today would represent an ultimate achievement.
In her fourth year as a senior player with the Bessbrook-based side – located less than a mile away from Shane O’Neill’s GFC, the home club of Aimee and Blaithin Mackin – she has contested top-tier deciders within the Orchard County during each of those seasons. Runners-up to Armagh Harps in 2020 and 2021, O'Hagan was also part of a Carrickcruppen line-up that lost out on a replay to Clann Eireann by four points (1-12 to 1-8) in October of last year.
It is Clann who once again stand in the way of Carrickcruppen later this evening at BOX-IT Athletic Grounds (throw-in 5pm) and while she won a Lidl National Football League Division 2 title with Armagh back in April, helping her club team to win a first senior championship crown since 2018 is something she would cherish for years to come.
“That’s where you started it all and learnt all your skills, and you meet your friends. I think it means a wee bit more winning with them (Carrickcruppen). They’re nearly like your family and all your family are a part of your club,” O’Hagan said.
“It’s definitely a big thing winning with them and it’s the memories that you hold because we’re all friends for such a long time and it’s just unreal. Winning anything really, any matches with them are memories to hold, but a championship is definitely something that we’re looking for.”
With county panellists such as Clodagh McCambridge, Cait Towe, Niamh Coleman and Dearbhla Coleman in their ranks, Clann Eireann will feel confident about completing a successful defence of the 2022 county title. Yet the Carrickcruppen management have plenty of experience to call upon, none more so than the evergreen Caroline O’Hanlon.
In addition to being a highly-decorated international netball player with Northern Ireland, O’Hanlon featured for Armagh in their narrow TG4 All-Ireland SFC final defeat to Cork in 2006 and was named the TG4 Senior Player’s Player of the Year eight years later.
Having watched her playing for both teams when she was growing up, O’Hagan has gone on to become a team-mate of O’Hanlon for Armagh and Carrickcruppen in recent years.
Whereas O’Hagan started their Lidl NFL Division 2 showpiece encounter against Laois at Croke Park earlier this year, her idol turned playing colleague came on with three minutes remaining to see out a 4-9 to 2-10 success for the Orchard women.
“She’s just a powerful athlete. She’s such a big person in our club and definitely in the team. You know when she’s on the pitch that everything is going to be alright. She can direct you and give you a bit of advice.
“Also, she can control a game and you know when she has the ball that everything is going to be going good. I went to the games to see most of the girls, but definitely Caroline.
“You can learn off her and you can see her, but playing with the club, she used to be off practicing in her own time and you sort of learn from that. If you want to be one of the best players, you have to put in the extra effort.”
An interesting sub-plot for today’s Armagh senior final is the presence in the opposition ranks of a man that O’Hagan will soon be able to call her inter-county boss. Currently at the helm of Clann Eireann, Gregory McGonigle was appointed to the role of Armagh senior manager at the beginning of this month.
The Derry native is a highly-experienced figure, having guided Monaghan and Dublin to a combined five All-Ireland SFC final appearances in six years from 2011 to 2016. While she enjoyed working with Shane McCormack during his single year as Orchard supremo, O’Hagan believes McGonigle’s knowledge of the local scene in Armagh can work to their advantage in 2024 and beyond.
“Hopefully we’ll beat them on Saturday and it won’t put him in a bad mood for Armagh if we beat them! He’ll have a good scope of the players around the county, from all levels as well. This year, Ballyhegan were up in the senior division.
“Some girls that mightn’t have been seen playing senior championship could get a call-up playing for Armagh. It’s good to see him managing a team in Armagh where he can actually see what is out there and see people playing their games with the club.
“Shane was great. A lovely man and definitely always checked in with you, and gave you a bit of advice. If you were worried about anything, or if you needed anything, he was there. He was good craic too, like! Definitely a very good manager and he knew the team well.”
The next 12 months is set to be a big one away from football for O’Hagan as she takes her third-level education off into an exciting new direction. After entering University of Ulster Jordanstown last year as an environmental health student, she has now decided to undertake a sports science course at the Antrim-based institution.
This was something that O’Hagan had previously expressed an interest in and given there is a sports science element to many of the inter-county sessions that are held at the Armagh LGFA’s training base of McKeever Park in Killean, she believes it is the perfect career path for her to pursue.
“I was definitely interested in it before, it was between the two (sports science and environmental health). It’s good because I enjoy doing sport and playing sport. Having a career in it would be unreal. You get to work at something that you enjoy doing. I decided that might be the right path to go,” O’Hagan added.
“With the strength and conditioning and the training that you’re doing, in the gym and on the pitch, and learning about how it is helping you get fitter. The food that you’re eating. It all comes into play and it’s definitely a building ground to a career that I’d go into in the future.”Tweet