THERE ARE very few examples left across Ulster of a truly dual club, where football and hurling teams compete side by side and enjoy the same starting points, perks and privileges as the other.
Middletown are a club who break the norm. One club committee oversees both codes, and most of their players from senior level right down to u-6 level practice both football and hurling. The only differentiation is that the footballers play under the banner of Eoghan Ruadh, with the hurlers taking to the field as Na Fianna.
For a club of a membership of just over 250, it makes it all the more impressive but also all the more necessary as the club attempt to make use of their limited resources to achieve their true potential in both codes. The club currently fields teams in both codes at all levels, 15 teams in total.
At present it’s their senior hurling team who are leading the way and flying the flag for the club, as with county and provincial titles already secured, they this weekend run out in the All-Ireland semi-final against Effin with the chance once again of putting the club on the national stage, the highlight to date of what has been an incredible 104 year history of the Middletown club.
Club secretary Aidan Mallon takes on much of the responsibility for organising football matters in the club, but he too insists that everything in Middletown is of a par, something which everyone involved in the club are most proud of.
“A policeman once said that Middletown must be the most boring place in the world, because everyone he stopped was either going to the GAA pitch or coming from it, and that they must have no time to do anything else. That’s how it has always been, and continues to be, with everyone associated with the club completely devoted to both codes.
“It’s in the very fabric of this club that no difference is made between football and hurling, and that both are given the same level of care and attention. That’s how it has been, how it continues to be, and how it always will be.”
The current run of success enjoyed by the club hurlers comes as no surprise, with Middletown building towards greatness over recent years. Their 2011 Armagh title win was their tenth since the cup came to Middletown for the first time back in 1981.
The bulk of the current Senior Hurling team won the club’s first u-16 Hurling Championship in 2003, and the club went on to complete five championships in-a-row at u-16 level.
Those Middletown players have also enjoyed tangible success in the orange jerseys of Armagh. The club provided 12 players to the 2011 Armagh senior panel, the majority of whom were on the Nicky Rackard Cup win of 2010, and who contested the Ulster Senior Hurling Championship final against Antrim last summer.
Na Fianna also provided the bulk of the county u-21 side which lost out to Antrim in the Ulster decider last summer, while they also had five representatives on the Armagh minor outfit which won the 2010 Ulster Minor League title.
According to the club’s hurling secretary Rory McConnell, the upturn in fortunes of both Na Fianna and the county side have gone hand in hand.
“That whole team has stayed together from u-14 level, winning Féile titles and then were part of that five-in-a-row u-16 side. They went on to compete in the minor tournament at Ballinascreen, and have now brought that through to senior level.
“They’re mad for hurling those boys, there are times that you’d offer them a rest and they just want to keep going, keep playing and keep winning.
“I always tell them that it’s no coincidence that the county is now doing better with those Middletown boys involved, because they’re used to winning and they’ve definitely brought something extra to the county senior team over the past few years.
“The Armagh county board have always been very accommodating of us as a dual club as regards fixtures. Within the club, we work closely to ensure that the players’ welfare always comes first. The hurling and football managers are all Middletown men, so they know how the club works. Of course there is the odd minor hiccup, but by and large it’s all plain sailing.”
On the administrative side of things, Middletown have also not been found wanting when it comes to representing their county. The club has provided two Armagh County Chairmen – PJ O’Neill and Joe Jordan.
In 1949 Armagh won its first Minor All-Ireland with PJ the Chairman; In 2002 Armagh won their only Senior All-Ireland, in 2004 their only u-21 All-Ireland and in 2005 their only National League with Joe as Chairman for three of these successes. Incidentally, PJ’s son Gerry played for Armagh in 1953 All-Ireland Final scoring three points against Kerry.
The footballers may have been playing second-fiddle to the hurling team in recent seasons, but they too have enjoyed their moments in the limelight. In 2008 the club won a first county Football Championship title in 32 years when they collected the Armagh Junior Championship crown.
In 2010 the club’s u-21 footballers reached the Armagh Championship semi-final where they lost out to eventual winners Crossmaglen, but that run has raised hopes and expectations that a revival of fortunes on the football front may be just around the corner.
Of course it takes more to run a successful club than to just win games on the field. Back in 2007 the club marked 100 years of Gaelic games in the parish with a hugely-successful Gala Ball, and combined with other fundraising efforts they were able to open a new sand-based pitch the following year.
Scór is also always high on the agenda, and the club boasts the proud record of having competed at every level at both junior and senior level since the 1970s.
To date they have won Ulster titles and have competed in All-Ireland finals in the quiz, solo singing and novelty act competitions, helping to embrace all aspects not only of Gaelic culture but of community life in Middletown according to the club secretary.
“We are very fortunate to have the dedicated people we have within our club, both on the playing field and everywhere else. Wherever we turn to look for help and support, financial or otherwise, we’ve been fortunate to always find willing people there.
“Of course like any club, we don’t want to stand still, and plans are still in place to push on with our new centre, which will include changing rooms, committee rooms, a fitness suite, hall and community areas.
“The current economic climate has forced us to put our plans on hold as we do not wish to burden our local community in these tough times, but we remain determined to proceed in the near future with a development which we know will keep us at the hub of the community, and will help us to deliver success both on the field and off it.”