Cross Stars shining in Australia

May 13, 2019

Richard Bullick
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows her that Lauren McConville is still making an impact on and off the gaelic football field even though she’s on the other side of the world at present.
A positive, vibrant, versatile individual who would thrive anywhere, McConville is currently loving life in Sydney where she has been doing well with work, tasting some sporting success and enjoying all that an Aussie summer has to offer.
The whole experience is proving sufficiently fulfilling that Lauren reveals she’s tempted to stay on considerably longer than the 12 months initially intended when she arrived Down Under last November.
The appeal is obvious but being in Australia means McConville is a long way from family and Armagh gaelic football is another deep passion which tugs at her heart-strings.
In normal circumstances, the Crossmaglen woman would have been in the thick of Armagh’s bid for promotion this spring but all she could do last weekend was watch helplessly from afar as Kerry ended Orchard hopes.
The big time difference between Athy and Sydney meant McConville burning the midnight oil to follow updates but her heart was with her footballing buddies back home and she was gutted they couldn’t get over the line in the Division Two semi-final.
“I was following the score updates on social media and am so disappointed for the girls.  I’m sure it’s tough to take for them especially after finishing first in the table,” she says.
“Life in Oz is great and I’m loving it but it’s strange not being part of (Armagh’s 2019 campaign) as county football becomes such a way of life but I always know when they’re playing, and results and reports during the league have been very encouraging.
“I’m sure Caroline (O’Hanlon) and the Mackins were a big miss against a top team like Kerry but the girls gave it a real go as Armagh always do and I’ve no doubt they can have a successful championship campaign.”
Crossmaglen’s accomplished Poet Lauren-ate had promised to compose some verses if the Orchard crew reached their National League final but hopefully Armagh’s footballing bard will have reason to wax lyrical come June’s Ulster showpiece.
Armagh’s most recent Ulster title triumph came in 2014 during an unforgettable first season in the orange jersey for diminutive newcomer McConville as they shocked champions Monaghan in a packed Clones.
Daughter of Jim McConville, Crossmaglen captain at the start of the club’s two decades of incredible dominance, and niece of double All-Star Oisin, Lauren started 33 Armagh matches in a row after being pitched straight into the team for the opening National League game.
The orangewomen won back-to-back NFL promotions in her first two seasons, either side of being crowned Ulster champions, and reached consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals under James Daly.
Lauren’s unbroken run of appearances ended during the 2016 National League campaign when she was ejected from Ronan Clarke’s panel along with Aoife McCoy and Shauna Grey when they decided to go to America for the summer.
She started all 11 matches the following season as Sean O’Kane’s Armagh achieved a first ever victory over the then All-Ireland champions Cork followed by an historic away win over their successors Dublin at Abbotstown.
Taking time out after captaining unfancied Crossmaglen to an unexpected Armagh Intermediate title triumph that autumn, McConville’s late return to pre-season meant she didn’t start Armagh’s first two NFL fixtures last year.
Being benched was a matter of selection policy rather than a reflection on ability and the bustling forward duly started the remaining 11 matches last season.
The fact McConville was never dropped or missed a single game through injury in her first five seasons with Armagh is testament to how talented and durable she is.
An important player and big personality within the group, it was a considerable blow when McConville let it be known at the end of last season that she was set to spend a year in Australia and consequently miss Armagh’s entire 2019 campaign.
However you’re only young once and McConville, who just turned 24 over Christmas, should still have a long Orchard career ahead of her, even if this Australian adventure lasts longer than the initial 12 months.
“I arrived in Sydney on November 1 with the intention of being here for one year but, now that I have the feel for it and have settled in so well, I can’t see myself returning this November.  I will probably stay for at least two full years depending on how things go.
“I was lucky enough to get a job right away in my degree area (Food Safety) working as a Quality Assurance Officer at a company called Vic’s Premium Quality Meat. 
“They are a well-renowned company in Australia and the Chief Executive even has his own TV show!” explains Lauren, who had been working for Castleblayney firm Rangeland Foods in a similar role before heading to the land of Oz.
“It has been great experience for me in terms of my career.  My intention is to do my regional work to have my second year visa granted.  We’ve been looking into some farms, trying to get the best fit.
“I actually left Sydney on Tuesday to go to a dairy farm to milk cows and I’m really looking forward to the experience even though it will mean swapping the football boots for wellies for a while!”
McConville’s been playing plenty these past few months though, not only in her primary code of gaelic football but also camogie, which she has shone in back home for Culloville alongside her mum Michelle and younger sister Aoibheann.

“I’m playing for the Michael Cusacks club in Sydney and we’ve won four tournaments so far, two 13-a-side and two in sevens.  Obviously winning’s nice but I’ve equally enjoyed the fact success hasn’t come easily.
“The football standard over here is so high, so I’m getting good competitive football playing with and against some top players including county stars from various parts of Ireland.  The competitions have been really tough going, especially when it’s camogie and football in one day.
“Our first success came on February 3, in the tournament we hosted, the Michael Cusacks Annual All Sydney GAA Championship.  We beat Cormac McAnallens in the final after extra-time, having earlier lost in the camogie semis.
“The following weekend was a football-only tournament, the Young Ireland Anniversary Sevens, and again we beat big rivals Cormac McAnallens in the final.
“After that we went to the Melbourne Sevens, which I’m told is one of the most prestigious (gaelic tournaments) in Australia.  We lost in the camogie semi-final but beat the hosts Padraig Pearses in the football final.  The celebrations for that one were like no other!
“Our most recent competition win was the Penrith Gaels tournament, which is just gaelic football.  Cormac McAnallens beat us in the group stage but we still made the semis.
“The semi-final against Central Coast went to extra-time but we came through and still had enough in the tank to beat Cormac McAnallens by four points in the final.”
McConville modestly declines to quantify her own prolific contribution to these successes, just saying, self-deprecatingly: “I’ve actually been scoring more than I do at home, surprisingly.
“I’ve been taking the free-kicks here which has been adding to my tallies.  In the most recent competition I scored the last goal and point to win.”
McConville is one of four Crossmaglen exiles in the Cusacks set-up along with a former Orchard county colleague and maybe the most notable name is Sarah Tierney, who captained Mayo in the 2017 All Ireland final.
“Our captain is Linda Lodge, from Limerick, a super player.  Sarah Tierney is vice-captain and she’s an inspirational person too.  We’ve also Carrickcruppen’s Caoimhe Murray and Orla Donadson, Orlaith Murtagh and Natasha Hughes from Cross.”
McConville, Donaldson, who captained Cross camogs to the Armagh Intermediate title last season, and Murtagh will be big losses to their club back home this season but Murray’s recent return to Ireland will help county champions Cruppen.
Tierney was in the news last summer as one of the players who quit the Mayo county panel after a high-profile falling out, as was the legendary Cora Staunton.
Staunton is now plying her trade as a professional with Aussie Rules side Greater Western Sydney Giants, one of five Irish stars currently lining out in the AFLW, but emulating them isn’t on McConville’s agenda just now.
“I haven’t played any Aussie Rules yet because I’ve been busy getting settled in and with work, but now I’ve got the hang of things I’m definitely considering trying it out.
“I went to one of the men’s AFL games here in Sydney, Sydney Swans against Adelaide Crows, and I really enjoyed it.  It’s an amazing sport and the atmosphere at the game was unreal.
“However with regards to the AFLW, I haven’t thought about trying to get a contract or anything like that.  I just want to try playing for fun and don’t really have an ambition for anything further right now,” insists Lauren, whose Crossmaglen cousin Rian O’Neill has trialled with AFL side, North Melbourne.
Lauren has three cousins in the present Armagh men’s panel in rising star Rian, his older brother Oisin O’Neill and defender James Morgan, while her younger brother Cian is starting to emerge as another future star.
He came to prominence scoring heavily while captaining Crossmaglen Minors over the winter but has since shone for the club’s senior side before being sidelined lately by a broken hand.
“Cian has really stepped up his game and was performing well at senior level before injury.  I think our men’s senior team needed something fresh and he, along with the other new youngsters, will contribute to that. 
“I’m so proud of him and glad to see he’s doing well.  It’s unfortunate about his hand but at least he will be back for championship.”
In the past she has introduced Cian to this writer as her ‘wee brother’ while he towered above her but Lauren has shown she can hold her own physically on the field, where lack of height hasn’t held her back.
McConville has scored a goal to help Ulster win an interpro final and captained Queen’s in the O’Connor Cup as well as her success with Armagh and Crossmaglen.
When they were in the United States, her accomplice McCoy claimed the bragging rights as her club beat McConville’s in the New York final so Lauren has had to go and conquer a fresh continent.
“Aoife did get the last laugh in America so I’m relieved to be getting some success over here.  Joking aside, I was delighted for Aoife and Shauna (Grey) that they got to play an Armagh match at their club Dromintee recently and it’s good they’re doing well.
“It’s also great to see some fresh faces in the mix for Armagh, there seems to be great competition for places and that should stand to them this summer.”
Her current commitments on the farm may mean putting her gaelic football on hold a bit but McConville can be expected to feature for New South Wales in the Australian Games later in the year.
Playing for her adopted state side couldn’t match wearing the Armagh jersey but there are some perks playing sport in Australia which the Orchard county can’t match.
“Bondi Beach is famous obviously but there are loads of other nice beaches around that we go to, even sometimes for a dip after training.  I’ve also tried my hand at surfing but I will need a lot more practice at it!” she says.