Following their 2010 Intermediate Championship success, Sarsfields have brushed shoulders with all the big hitters in Armagh. The High Moss men are used to toppling the best the county has to offer.
Their fortress, based in Derrytrasna, has seen many big wins over the last decade.
Star man Eamon McGeown recalls his sides first season in the Senior Championship, when they defeated both Crossmaglen and Maghery during the 2011 league.
“Going into that year, we hadn’t been beat at home in the Intermediate; we were unbeaten for three years I think. At that time we thought we could beat anyone at home.”
Unfortunately for Sarsfields, the “doomed Athletic Grounds” wasn’t such a happy hunting ground. A venue that McGeown has never experienced a victory in wearing the hooped jersey.
2011 ended when the Senior Championship newbie’s fell to their Lough Shore rivals Maghery, 0-13 to 1-9 in the first round of the Championship.
A recurring theme for Sarsfields, who came close on occasions, but didn’t taste Senior Championship victory until 2014.
Carrickcruppen overcame Sarsfields in the 2012 quarter final after a replay, a position the Lurgan men could have prevented.
“That was one we threw away, the first day. We conceded the equaliser deep into injury time. We had a great team with Gerard Skelton managing and Kieran Robinson as his number two. We threw it away and ‘Cruppen went on to the semis, and gave Cross a good rattle.”
Similar fate followed with defeats to Cullyhanna in 2013 and likewise to Crossmaglen in 2014, but the backdoor system allowed Sarsfields to remain in the competition.
Tir na nOg were seen off convincingly, 3-15 to 0-6, on a day where “everything just fell for us” and a big scalp followed, Sarsfields overcoming Granemore, 1-14 to 0-9.
“That was when (Tony) McClelland and (Kieran) Toner were in their primes. Granemore were a big team, and still are a big team, a big strong team too.”
“We got a goal at the right time, and then the couple of points at the end killed it.”
Once again Cullyhanna proved to be a step too far, but the High Moss side continued to compete over the next few years.
Pearse Ogs scrapped through (0-21 to 4-4) in round one of the 2015 Championship, while Sarsfields needed extra time to see off Forkhill in their qualifier clash, winning handsomely in the end, 6-19 to 2-14.
Their luck had run out however, as in the next round, Ballymacnab were the side who pushed on in extra time.
“We were winning the game, we kept playing hold ball, it must have been five or six minutes over time, then Ballymacnab got the score.”
Sarsfields earned victory over Forkhill in 2016, this time inside 60 minutes, but just as they had been in 2013 and 2014, Cullyhanna were too strong.
Another top side came next, a six goal thriller against the Harps in the backdoor, with the city side winning 3-17 to 3-14.
“It was exceptional, ones still talk about it. Every time we got a goal, Simon McCoy got a goal; it was an unbelievable game to play in.”
“I think we were winning at half time, things were looking good. Tommy McAlinden came back from an illness he’d been having for a long time, and got a goal, so things were looking positive.”
“Maybe what we didn’t have that time, and the last couple of years, was being able to kick on and win a game that was of big importance. Just to come out of the wrong end of it was gut-wrenching.”
Wins over Granemore and Annaghmore followed in 2017 before Sarsfields faced their biggest challenge of all, the reigning County Champions, Maghery.
An early goal put a dent in the underdog’s hopes. Although they were good enough to get back within touching distance, they couldn’t get close enough, losing 1-17 to 3-7.
“I was moved to full forward and got two goals. Going into half time I think we were a point behind, and we’d a lot of injuries that time.”
“We tried to exploit their weaknesses in round the square, and get the diagonal ball in as much as we could, and it was working to an extent. If we had the numbers to bring in off the bench, we could have pushed them.”
“That was a hard one to take because we were so close. They were Champions, and we were given no hope. The guys gave a good account of themselves, but just coming up short was hard to take. ”
2018 and 2019 yielded just one Championship win, but, as we have come accustomed to with Sarsfields, there were plenty of tight battles along the way.
Last season, Crossmaglen sneaked out of Lurgan with a 2-18 to 3-11 victory, “Cross don’t like coming to ‘trasna. Growing up we’d be told that teams like that don’t like coming down to ‘trasna.”
“We showed them too much respect, stood off them and gave them a bit of a head start. Caolan Skelton got a hat-trick, we’d a couple of chances, a couple of inches here and there, the game could have went in our favour.”
After a decade in the Senior division, 2014 stands out as one that got away, “If you look at the league standings back in 2014, I think we lost the league by a point.”
“We finished second or third, that was the year that we thought we had a chance. Cross, that time, were a strong Championship minded team, and they didn’t really show their hand in the league.”
“Cullyhanna beat us in the Championship; we didn’t show up in the first half. That year, we thought maybe if we got a good run and get a couple of results together, you never know what would happen.”
Sarsfields will ply their trade in the Intermediate Championship, if and when club action commences this season, and aim to bounce right back up to Senior level.
“We have a lot of hungry fellas this year; we have boys coming back from a couple of years out.”
“The numbers are there this year; we were getting 35 at training which has been unheard of the last couple of years.”
Over the past five years, only Crossmaglen (55) have scored more goals than Sarsfields (45) in the Senior Championship and McGeown knows the talent within their forward, but recognises the hard work that still has to be done.
“We have a forward line that is as good as any going forward. It’s just working collectively when we don’t have the ball, the overall issue of stopping the scores doesn’t just rely on the defence doing that, it’s everybody. ”
Lots of close calls, and hard luck stories. The High Moss men will look back on the last 10 years with ‘what if’ memories of what could have been, and now are determined to get back competing at Senior level.