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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 29 January, 2020
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'We've lost our home and they've lost their homes... but it's a terror what 12 months does'

A little over a year on from sinkhole devastation and relegation, Magheracloone were crowned Ulster champions last weekend.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes… this is what dreams are made of. 

One simple tweet and heartwarming picture from Magheracloone GAA after their Ulster intermediate final victory last Saturday night said it all. 

From devastating sinkhole damage forcing them out of their club grounds, and relegation from the senior ranks in 2018, to provincial glory in 2019; it’s been nothing short of a roller coaster for Monaghan side Magheracloone Mitchells. 

One hell of a year.

“Saturday evening was a mighty evening here, as good as they came for the club,” their delighted chairman Francie Jones told The42 earlier this week. “An Ulster title, it’s great to achieve it after the year we’ve had. Both on and off the field, it’s been tough.

It’s been a very emotional year. From the 24th of September 2018, when we lost our grounds and the realisation that we were never going to get back. And then since August, our ground has been demolished. That was hard to take and hard to watch.

“But you have to move on. Nobody’s been hurt, thank God. Moving on, the exploits of the players on the field have lifted everyone.”

Jones remembers that fateful September day all too well.

People in Magheracloone and the surrounding areas couldn’t believe the news they woke up to, and the pictures and videos that soon circulated on social media.

There was no usual Monday morning post-championship chat, following their county senior football semi-final exit at the hands of Scotstown. Club members were discussing a much more serious issue. 

“That Monday morning I went into work, the usual Monday morning,” Jones recalls. “I got the call just after nine o’clock to say, ‘You better come up, there’s a hole in the pitch.’ I only work a couple of minutes down the road, so I went straight.

magheracloone The sinkhole damage. Source: Lou Metzger.

“It was just so surreal to see what had happened. It was just something out of a film, like. I’ve never seen an earthquake — I don’t want to see one — but it was like that. The cracks on the ground, the ground all shifted and all.

“The hairs on the back of your neck would stand up. So surreal, so it was.”

Nothing short of extraordinary. But not in a good way.

What we now know is part of a disused, old gypsum mine collapsed, causing the sinkhole at the GAA club, which is based very near Cavan, Meath and Louth.

In turn, it left the grounds, community centre and pitch completely out of bounds. Not just that, though, it effected the entire community, as Jones explains. 

“As devastating as it was, thankfully no one was hurt,” he stresses. “There was a blitz on it on the Saturday, an U17 game the Sunday morning; if that had to have happened 24 or 48 hours earlier, there could be a whole different tale to be told.

“It caused a serious amount of disruption, though. First of all, the thing was to clear the site, then the council and the Garda Síochána came in and closed the road. It was closed for so long and there were people put out of their houses. There’s some of those people still not back in their houses.

On them, it’s very, very tough. Some of them lived there all their lives. We’ve lost our home and they’ve lost their homes. It’s very tough on them.”

But as we all know, tough times bring people together.

Through all the damage and devastation, the club and the community rallied together, and in a weird way, it galvanised everyone. 

“Definitely so,” he nods, thankful for everyone who helped along the way including neighbouring clubs who offered up their own facilities to keep the show on the road.

ulster gaa Celebrating the Ulster final win. Source: Ulster GAA.

mitchells Celebrating their county final win. Source: Magheracloone Mitchells Facebook.

“The first thing we had to do was start looking for somewhere to train and play our games. We put a sub-committee together, they worked tirelessly for the next six or eight months to get a temporary grounds up and running.

“We had to lease two fields off two local farmers, and put a temporary training field in there. It’s working well, but it took a serious amount of work, good will, and commitment from everyone.

“It galvanised everyone; all the members of the club, everyone put their shoulder to the wheel.

“In the short term, we had parents driving all over the place. Some parents with a couple of different kids were going to say, Meath Hill tonight, Carrick an hour later. They were all over the place.

“But everyone rolled their sleeves up and got on with it. We didn’t lose anyone, everyone stayed with the club and that’s a real sign of commitment.”

The temporary facilities are working a treat, but they were only ever going to be suitable for training. Magheracloone needed to look elsewhere for a base to host senior matches. 

“Look, there were possibilities,” the club chairman and former player notes. “All the local clubs had offered their grounds.

But we were going to be without our ground for three, four, five years. With all the good will in the world, the other teams were going to be using their fields.

“We came across Annaghminnon Rovers up in Louth, just above Killanny on the border [about a 20-minute drive away]. They came up with an offer that we could ground share with them, they haven’t too many teams.

“We agreed to that. We’re thankful for it, it gives us a base to play all our home games.”

So all things considered, it has all worked out pretty well. While the sinkhole was a major blow off the field, another one came on the field. But success at a lower grade has really lifted the spirits as they look forward to an All-Ireland series in the New Year.

“We’re on the right track,” Jones smiles. “It’s a terror what 12 months does.

On the back of losing our facilities alone, we were relegated from senior. We were there for 21 years. That was a big blow to take.

“At the beginning of the year, the whole thing on the field was to get back up to senior football and thankfully, the players did. James Kieran, the manager, Frankie Doogan and Paul Jones, the selectors, and Jodie Clarke from Shercock is the trainer; they put in a serious effort all year.

“No stone left unturned to get back up to senior. It’s been fantastic, winning an Ulster. It’s a step into the unknown for us but it’s fantastic.”

After county final success over Donaghmoyne, Magheracloone’s magical journey through Ulster culminated with a stunning decider win over Galbally Pearses of Tyrone last weekend. 

Driven by Monaghan great and 2007 All-Star forward Tommy Freeman, veterans like himself and recently-retired Farney midfielder Gavin Doogan led the way at Armagh’s Athletics Ground, while rising star Paudie McMahon accounted for 1-4 of the 1-15 scoreline Magheracloone posted, all from play. 

Listen, as far as Tommy Freeman’s concerned, it’s back to the old saying, ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent,’” Jones assures when the 38-year-old’s name is mentioned.

“He played top stuff last Saturday night. An Ulster final, and Tommy shines on the big day. No better man. 

magheracloones-tommy-freeman-dejected-after-the-game The evergreen Tommy Freeman. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“He was ably assisted by a lot of brilliant players. A lot of them played very well. Magheracloone had a good showing on Saturday, and played well across the board.”

With their season now continuing into 2020, the Mitchells learn their fate as Louth’s Mattock Rangers and Kilkenny kingpins Mullinavat face off in the Leinster intermediate final this afternoon [throw-in 1.30pm, Drogheda].

All shall be revealed then, with an All-Ireland semi-final appearance looming on the second weekend in January. 

A quiet enough Christmas, so?

“A quiet enough Christmas for some, yeah,” Jones laughs. “Hopefully a quiet enough one for the players. Ah, it’s great now, we had a couple of great nights celebrating and they’re well entitled to do that.

“Look, they’ll refocus. It’s an All-Ireland semi-final, they don’t come around too often. They have to take it with both hands, seize the opportunity and go for it.”

Considering the year the club have had and what they’ve done so far, both on and off the pitch, there’s no doubt they’ll do just that.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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