Lurgan Ladies may have lost half a dozen first team regulars from last season for one reason or another but the future certainly looks bright when you take a glance at the squads for this weekend’s Youth interprovincials in Cork.
The club has no fewer than seven players across the Under 16 and Under 18 squads which is more than any other outfit in the province.
Alana Doyle, Kerrie Burns, Orla Thompson and Kathryn Edgar will represent Lurgan at U16 level with Alex Hurst, Pippa Best and Naomi Costley at U18 level.
“The continued success of these young players requires the dedication of a number of excellent coaches at junior level,” explained Lurgan’s Cherryl Holden who doubles as Club Chairperson and Junior Club Co-ordinator.
“We work on a ratio of 12 to 13 players per coach and this ensures all talent can be spotted early and fast tracked to keep our numbers constant at Ulster and Irish level.
“We have just under 130 girls from the age of six through to 15 in our junior section and we split our coaching into different nights to ensure our best coaches are on hand ensuring the highest levels are maintained.
“It is of paramount importance that our girls know the rules of the game and how those rules are applied so we encourage respect for other players and particularly for the umpire.”
There were originally just two teams for many years and around 15 years ago Lurgan were very much in danger of going out of business through a lack of players.
“Ivor Lennon, the current club co-ordinator had started coaching hockey and had gathered together a great bunch of talent,” Cherryl added.
“When asked if there was room for these girls, we jumped at the chance and players like Charlene Hull, Emma Clarke, Jayne Clarke, Sarah McClure, Zoe McNally moved in to become our 1st XI and the average age of the team back then just 14!
“Since then we haven’t looked back and our club has gone from strength to strength. From two teams we jumped rapidly to five and with an army of backroom helpers we have been able to establish Lurgan as one of the top clubs in the province.
“Each year our teams have been able to gain promotion culminating in our 1st XI reaching top flight hockey just five years ago.
“Year on year Lurgan are extremely well represented in talent development groups with many of those moving in to Ulster and Irish U16, U18 and beyond.”
Emma Clarke is Lurgan’s best known player and has been vice captain of the Irish senior women’s team.
Stephanie Quinn, a current Pegasus player and also a full Irish international also came through the Lurgan youth structure.
The conveyer belt of talent is never ending and despite losing some of their top players to other clubs and hockey scholarships among other reasons, this season Lurgan remain unbeaten in the Premier League.
But there is much more to the Co Armagh club than the first eleven which is only the tip of the iceberg.
“We currently have three U11, two U13 and two U15 Performance teams registered with the Union, and these girls are all from our local schools,” Cherryl continued.
“Lurgan College, Banbridge Academy and Armagh Royal are the three schools where most of our senior talent is found.
“Lurgan Junior High, Waringstown Primary, Maralin Primary, Carrick and Kingspark Primary feature heavily in our U13 and U11 squads.
“All of these schools have won trophies over the past number of years and all their players have come from Lurgan Ladies.
“All three sections do extremely well in the Union cup competitions, known locally as “Super Sunday”.
Lurgan College won the last of many Senior Cup finals before going on to clinch the Kate Russell (all Ireland) Cup.
And it’s not just on the playing front that Lurgan excel and the club actively encourages those who have had to retire through injury to pick up the whistle.
Their most notable success is Jade McIlwaine who was mentored at club level when just 14 years old and was the youngest panel umpire in the Province as she gained her badge at just 16.
She has umpired at Inter Provincial matches and UK School Games and her skills will travel with her as starts her University degree this year.
Lurgan are not content to rest on their laurels and they are determined to build on the successes of the past and move from strength to strength.
“The ability to fill the places of players who move to university or gain scholarships in the USA is key,” Cherryl insisted.
“Our head coach Gary Blythe does a tremendous job within the club and is highly respected by the girls.
“It is hoped we will maintain a top four finish this year as the IHL is a welcome challenge and a must to keep club sharp.
“Everyone at Lurgan does their job quietly, but if thanks were to be given it should go to folks like Darwin Murray, Ivor Lennon, Jaqui Conn, Sue Gibson, Louise Murray, Kathy Browes and Vikki Gardner.
“They give up so much of their time to stand in the wind and rain ensuring every child and player feels encouraged and included.
“And to the committee who paddle so furiously under the water while maintaining a composed and united front.”
Cherryl was too modest to mention her own sterling work and will be cheering on the Ulster girls in Cork!