A lot can change in ten years. Heading into the 2010 season, Pearse Ogs were the Senior County Champions, having captured their fourth ever title in 2009.
It’s been eight years since the Ogs last reached the Armagh decider, and since then they have faded from the top table, but are working hard to become contenders once again.
Like many clubs in the county, Crossmaglen were the pebble in their shoe. The stumbling block that denied several opportunities to win more trophies.
Thirteen back to back titles, stretching from 1996 to 2008, saw the Rangers control the Senior Championship in Armagh, with several teams knocking on the door, but unfit to advance pass the black and amber wall.
That domination ended in 2009.
Conor Clarke was part of the Pearse Ogs breakthrough, and remembers the many battles his side shared with the Armagh kingpins.
“It was breaking down something that hadn’t been done in nearly 15 years. Nobody had beaten them in Championship football in so long, to beat them was amazing.”
“I remember coming off the field in 2008, we played them up in Cross. I remember saying, “we’ll be back there next year and we’ll beat them,” and we did.”
“They beat us in the final that year, and they’d beaten us in three finals. The Cross team we were playing back then, they were a different animal than most of the club teams today.”
“We were beating them in league football but we just couldn’t get over the line in Championship football. I think it was more a mental thing for people in Armagh playing against them.”
Of course the Ogs went on to defeat their city rivals Armagh Harps in the final that year, “one of the best experiences” of Clarke’s career. In the years that followed, the Ogs continued to mix it with the top teams in the county, but couldn’t get over the line.
In 2010, they headed into the Championship hoping to defend their title, but were soon brought tumbling back to earth when they fell at the hands of Granemore in the quarter final.
“That year we were absolutely flying, it was one of those games that we just slipped up in. We actually played St Vincent’s the week before we played Granemore, and they went on to win the All-Ireland the next year.”
“We annihilated them by about 20 points. I think it was a lapse in concentration from us. We thought we were going to go out and just put Granemore to the sword and it was one of our biggest regrets.”
For the next three years the men in green and gold continued to be contenders, but each year came up against a superior Crossmaglen team.
The sides shared the pitch on the biggest day in 2012, and the Ogs had been trouncing all in front of them in the lead up to that years decider.
They were 16 points better than Granemore in the opening round before easily seeing off Ballymacnab in the quarter finals. Cullyhanna were the closest team to the Ogs that year, yet suffered a 10 point defeat. In the final they faced the biggest challenge of all, Crossmaglen.
“We’d new management in 2012; I think it was Louis O’Neill and Paul Turley came in, they rejuvenated and revived it. We had a great year until the final, they (Crossmaglen) were seasoned campaigners at that stage, they’d won an All-Ireland in 2010/2011.”
“We had a lot of players, the likes of JP (Donnelly), Hughesy (Kieran Hughes), Andy Mallon, Ciaran McKinney, we knew it was the last throw of the dice for them boys, and we just didn’t get over the line.”
The Rangers hammered the Ogs the following year, and things only got worse in 2014. Armagh Harps were victories in the first round while Dromintee knocked Pearse Ogs out of the running in the first round of the ‘backdoor’.
“We were trying to build a team again, and we just didn’t have the same quality that we had. That was when they first introduced the backdoor and Dromintee beat us fair and square.”
“They didn’t play the game before that. They were meant to play Cross and missed it because of a wedding. We thought we were just going to beat them and they turned round and beat us.”
Pearse Ogs continued to fade from the top table of Armagh football and defeats to Ballymacnab, Cullyhanna, Clann Eireann and Wolfe Tones followed over the next few years.
The former champions were a side in transition, a period that Clarke hopes can now bring his side back to their former glory.
“I wouldn’t say we’re quite there yet, but there is a lot of potential there. At the end of the day it’s how you apply yourself and I’ve no doubt that if these lads apply themselves, they definitely will be contenders.”
“We did lose or way (over the last few years), but now a lot of the young boys playing, them lads were only 17, 18 and they’re coming good now. They were just getting blooded; it does take a while to blood young lads like that.”
The way things are, it’s unclear when the GAA action will return, but when it does, Pearse Ogs will be heading into the season as Champions once again. Division 1B winners in 2019 and table toppers in the Championship, signals a team on the rise, with Shane McConville at the helm, leading the resurgence.
“Shane’s very, very good, there’s no doubt about that. He has the player’s best interest at heart and he’ll always work with them and find out what they want to do, and what’s best for them, as opposed to “this is how I want you to train”. So yeah, he’s been very, very good.”
Now, the Ogs are back in Division 1A and hope to remain there for the foreseeable future and get back to where they once were, at the peak of Armagh club football.