In terms of good seasons, Stefan Campbell’s couldn’t have gone much better. To kick it off, ‘Soupy’ was named the Armagh captain for the year.
Campbell helped the Orchard County secure Division One football and also enjoyed a brilliant club campaign.
All-Star, Man of the Match in the final and Intermediate Player of the Year, not a bad year for the Clan na Gael star!
“I had my sights set on that Championship for a long time. We kept coming up short, we lost a few quarters, lost a couple of semis, but I just knew, the team was getting to that age where we were learning from our previous seasons.
We were caught cold against the Grange and I just knew, barring a huge upset, or an under-performance, I just thought that the time was right”.
“I’m just thankful that it happened, it was a crazy year. It was knockout football and I think that suits us. It was a tough game against the Shane’s in the first round, we got over that by a score or two and then we just built and built and there was no stopping us really”.
It could have all been very different for Campbell as he picked up a bad rib injury weeks before the championship commenced.
It forced the Armagh captain to miss out on the league games pre-championship, and his first club outing came in the opening round against Shane O’Neill’s.
“Literally once lockdown was lifted and football was allowed, that first weekend we got a game against Maghery.
I was clean through on goal and one of the defenders came on the blindside, there was nothing malicious in it, it was a genuine attempt to block, and his elbow just caught me in the ribs”.
“I didn’t know at the time the extent of the injury. I didn’t train during the week, I just felt a bit sore, we had a game against Aghagallon the following week.
It’s a bit of a derby game, I didn’t want to miss it. I pulled out of a ball and I just knew I wasn’t right, a ball in my favour and I just couldn’t go for it”.
“I went for a scan and I’d two broken ribs. I thought obviously ‘how is this going to impact the championship’ but I recovered in four or five weeks, the Shane’s game was maybe week six, and I made it”.
While Campbell didn’t have the best of games against Shane O’Neill’s, his point in the in the final moments ensured Clan na Gael qualified for the next round.
“Shane’s lost the previous final by a point, and obviously Grange beat us by a score, so there was only ever going to be a kick of a ball in it.
It was 0-13 to 0-11 and I think we only led for the first time in injury time. It was a slow start to the championship for myself, it was probably the only score I got that day to be fair, Greg (McCabe) done a good job on me”.
“i was just thankful to get over the line, it gave me a few more weeks prep off the back of the rib injury. It was a good start and we just went another level after that, we could sense ourselves going through the gears and there was maybe only a couple of teams that stop us if we performed”.
Wins over Clonmore and Keady followed and while Clans didn’t take them for granted, they were deservingly favourites heading into those clashes.
“Clonmore had beat us previously, the last time I played Clonmore was in the Clans, Brendy (Donaghy) wasn’t even playing, he was coaching on the sideline and they beat us.
Clonmore were really struggling for numbers as well and we were carrying maybe 44 of a panel, and our subs made a difference throughout”.
“If you go back to round one, we were able to bring Ronan Austin, Michael Toland and Caolan Campbell off the bench and that made the difference”.
Campbell was on fire in the last four clash against Keady, striking 0-6 and making an eye-catching run to set up his sides only goal.
He performed even better in the all-Lurgan showpiece, carrying the fight to St Paul’s from start to finish, hitting 0-8.
“I get a bit of abuse back in the club for not showing up in the first two rounds, but I managed to turn it round against Keady and in the final.
Honestly, going into that St Paul’s game, I’ve never been as confident of winning a game of football. I think, if you’d have maybe put a couple of senior teams out in front of us that day it still wouldn’t have mattered”.
“I just think that team, we were primed to deliver. We were a really good age with a mixture of youth and experience.
It’s funny because I’d obviously be friends with a lot of St Paul’s lads, and they were convinced they were going to win. I was talking to Peadar Nash about it, we were having a beer after it and he was like ‘I don’t know how you done that to us’, he was adamant they were going to win. It just goes to show the two mindsets”.
Clans have such a grand tradition in the senior championship and with a raft of talented youth coming through, Campbell hopes they can keep at that level.
“It’s hard to tell. There are some really good teams, there’s no doubt that we can compete, but I’m not going to put any unneeded pressure on the management to deliver.
We dropped out of senior eight years ago and because we had a good group back then we assumed we’d be back in a year, back in two years, next year’s our year. It just never materialised, it’s a graveyard down in Intermediate”.