2005 marked a historic year in Clonmore’s history. For the first time ever, the Robert Emmets club held aloft the Junior Championship crown.
An unused sub at just 15 years of age, Ruairi Cunningham looked on at his heroes and sought after making his own destiny in the years to come.
Being a rural club throws up its own obstacles, and Clonmore have felt that pressure in the last few years.
“Numbers is always a difficulty for us. It’s not an excuse, but we do struggle. We are amalgamated very successfully as Naomh Eoin at underage but we do have gaps”.
“We went four years in a row without getting one single player through to the senior team, we just didn’t have anyone”.
Three Championship final defeats in five years suggested Clonmore wouldn’t add to their maiden Championship title, but all the hard work would soon pay off.
Eire Og stood in their way in 2011 when two first half goals dented Clonmore’s chances of capturing the Sean Quinn Cup.
“We had been going well in the league and it was a great run to the Championship final. It probably came too soon for some of the younger players”.
“We left the game behind us in the first half. It took the squad a significant time to get over that and when we got back to the Championship final in 2013, I think a lot of the scares were still there”.
Two years later Clonmore were once again centre stage, facing rivals Annaghmore in the showpiece.
Nerves certainly played their part and by the short whistle Clonmore had only registered one single point, Annaghmore ahead 0-6 to 0-1.
“Definitely the nerves got the better of a lot of our squad and it was disappointing we didn’t perform because we felt we had a good enough team”.
“League wise, we were going well. I think we finished fifth or sixth in Division Two”.
“We had beaten Madden in the league and they were the Intermediate Champions. Our expectations were high, we hammered Annaghmore at home in the league”.
“That was a heartbreaking defeat for us and it’s still something that grits with us”.
“We would feel that we were as good a team as Annaghmore, and Annaghmore have went on to do very well and stay in Division One for a prolonged period”.
Two Championship defeats and a poor run of league results in 2014 saw Clonmore relegated once more to the Junior Division, and yet again went searching for Championship glory.
Paudge Quinn took over the reins mid-way through the 2015 season and Clonmore found themselves marching around the Athletic Grounds on Championship final day.
“We ended up having a huge win against Derrynoose (in the Championship Quarter Final), who were top of the league and probably favourites for the Championship”.
An outstanding performance saw Clonmore win 3-7 to 0-9, “James Grimley scored maybe 3-4 and was voted Gaelic Life Player of the Week. His son was born the night before, he’d no sleep. James would be one of our special players”.
Just when everything seemed to be pointing in the right direction, disaster struck. Their inspirational leader Brendan Donaghy broke his thumb in that Derrynoose tie and was unfit to play for the remainder of the year.
Clonmore earned another Championship final spot, but with Donaghy sidelined, a runner-up medal was the best they could do.
Tullysaran captured the 2015 title, winning 1-13 to 0-8. “There was a period where we just thought we’d never get over the line”.
“Tullysaran were the better side on the day. Ronan Clarke was over them at the time and they were supremely fit”.
Back to the drawing board in 2016 and finally Clonmore looked to have cracked the code. They claimed promotion by winning the league, and carried that momentum through to the Championship.
“Winning the league was massive for us because that was the first time that squad had actually won anything and I think that helped us going into the Championship”.
“We won the league on the last day. Keady got beat by Collegeland by a point and we beat Lissummon by a point at home. There were massive celebrations for that league title”.
Ballyhegan were pushed aside in round one, with Keady the opponents in the next round, which proved to be a night to remember for the Clonmore club, for more than what happened on the field of play.
“One of our members Kevin Crossey, who was club secretary for over 20 years, had a heart attack on the sideline that night. It was hugely poignant on the club”.
Keady were yet again conquered in the quarter finals, as were Lissummon in the last four, with Clonmore facing St Patrick’s IIs in the Junior Championship Final.
Clonmore looked to have finally captured their second ever title, leading by three points as the final whistle approached.
But Championship titles aren’t as easy as that. Cullyhanna snatched a late draw to bring the game to a replay, leading into Clonmore’s fifth Championship final in six years.
“I would say the week before the replay was up there with the worst weeks of my life. It was a huge game and we felt we had played enough football to win it”.
Finally Clonmore would achieve their ultimate goal. James Grimley rattled the night to secure a 1-10 to 0-10 win and after much heartache; Clonmore had reached the Promised Land.
“It was a huge relief for that squad to get over the line. There was huge hunger there but we hadn’t got over the mental barrier of so many defeats”.
“We felt we were the best team that Clonmore ever had, but we had never won anything to prove it. The 2005 team won the Championship and that would always be the benchmark”.
The loss of key personnel signalled a tough 2017 and although their league form wasn’t up to scratch, they managed to consolidate their place in the Intermediate Championship for another season.
2018 would be a completely different year, and one that got away for Clonmore. “The 2018 Intermediate Championship is one of my biggest regrets”.
With three league games remaining, promotion was on the cards, but by the end of the league campaign, Clonmore were back to the Junior Division.
The Championship was one that will live long in the memory. While they reached the quarter finals of the competition, it was the group stages that stood out for Clonmore.
They saw off Mullaghbawn and St Peter’s (the Championship final pairing that year) to top their group, both wins coming on home soil.
“Having Mullaghbawn and St Peter’s coming to us was huge motivation and the squad really bought into it”.
“We went into that Championship confident and played some of the best football we’d played in a couple of years and beat Mullaghbawn”.
“St Peter’s had won the league and we were relegated, maybe there was complacency on their part, but we prepared for it like it was a Championship final”.
“Clonmore hadn’t won a game in the Intermediate Championship for almost 40 years, so they were massive wins for us and to have those games at home was a huge victory”.
Shane O’Neill’s were the quarter final match up, and although Clonmore lead by two points with ten minutes to go, the Camlough men stole the victory.
Back to the Junior Division and there was only one thing on their minds, promotion. “That (2018) Championship run defiantly drove us on for 2019; it put a lot of confidence into the team”.
With Seamus McCallan now over the side, Clonmore set about a different approach, “we played a very aggressive brand of football which worked very well for us. We won 17 out of the first 17 games to win the league”.
Huge wins over Belleek handed Clonmore the title, but it wasn’t without controversy.
“We played them after six or seven games and the two teams were unbeaten. We went a point in front and there was a bit of confusion over a substitute”.
“Belleek put on a sub and had 16 men on the pitch when they scored the winning goal to win by a point. The game had to be replayed and we beat them by a point”.
“The way it worked out, we won 16 of our league games and we were the only team to beat Belleek, and if they had of beaten us that day (in Round 17) it was all there to play for”.
With the momentum of a terrific league campaign, Clonmore set about claiming the Junior Championship once again.
Wins over Clady and Lissummon led the Robert Emmets men to the quarter finals, where their year came to an unexpected halt.
A strong Forkhill side put them to the sword and were 15 points better off when the final whistle sounded.
“Overall we didn’t perform. We had played a high press game that served us well all year and Forkhill were prepared for that and hit us on the break for two soft goals in the first half”.
“Winning the league took a huge amount out of the squad. The squad had been through such hunger to win that Championship in 2016, and then to be close and competitive in the Intermediate Championship, we felt that’s where we should be”.
“I felt maybe that small lack of hunger, when you come into those games against tough teams, I think we were just happy to get up”.
All in all, Clonmore achieved their ultimate target of getting back into the Intermediate Championship, and Cunningham believes the sky’s the limit for his team.
“For the first time in a number of years we had five young lads who came through for the minor squad”.
“Without a doubt it’s to win Division 2B (the target for 2020). We had a team meeting back in November and the manager said, unless there’s a drive for this squad to drive on for Senior football then he’s not interested, and that was met ferociously by the lads”.
“My aspiration would be to get this team to Senior football and I think that has to be within the club ambitions”.
“The club is ambitious; we know our limits in terms of numbers but we’re working very hard from a club development point to put the resources behind the senior team”.
“We as a club are keen to put the resources in place so that Clonmore can compete at that level and that’s very important to us”.