IF the Holy Trinity of any rural parish is usually the church, the pub and the GAA club then how do you explain Toome’s ability to stand on their own two feet without a few of those key components?
Landlocked by some heavyweight clubs in the saturated north Monaghan-south Armagh GAA market, they should be gasping for air, but instead they are breathing freely.
That’s down to their own Holy Trinity, one that they’re hoping to add the third stem to in the coming years. The youth structures are sorted, the on-field matters are inspiring, and next on the agenda is to sort out the facilities at the home of the St Victor’s club.
“We’re almost unique in the way that we’re not a parish, we’re part of the Donaghmoyne parish and we even creep over into the parish of Muckno,” said Toome chairperson Peter Devlin.
“There’s no community other than the club. There’s no shop, there’s no chapel, no pub. The club is it and that makes us fairly unique.
“We’re small in terms of geography and we’re sandwiched in the middle of some big clubs.
“You have Donaghmoyne itself, you have the Faugh’s in ‘Blayney and then on the other side you have the Rangers of Cross and so on.
“We may be small but we’re big in heart. Maybe it’s because of those reasons that we’re surviving, we know we are up against it and that often has its advantages.”
Given their rapid rise, it’s understandable that the senior team, under the tutelage of former Crossmaglen and Armagh forward Jim McConville, are getting plenty of praise – but Devlin was keen to point out that their youth scene is flourishing too.
Indeed, last April the club had one of its finest days as Clan na Gael, an amalgamation of Toome and Oram, defeated Scotstown 2-14 to 1-4 in the Division Two feile final – the club’s first ever success in the competition.
“The conveyor belt is everything,” Devlin continued.
“Perhaps we’re challenged in terms of population and kids willing to play.
“One of the things we are experiencing is that there are quite a few houses nearby that we would consider in our catchment area but don’t necessarily play for Toome.
“They play for Crossmaglen or Culloville or ‘Blayney, so that’s a challenge we have identified.
“How we get around it is the big thing, but the only thing we can do is to continue to engage with the youth and try and keep kids involved.”
The word ‘amalgamation’ can often present difficulties in the GAA, but Toome are fortunate to enjoy some fine relationships with neighbouring clubs.
For Devlin, there are subtle advantages in joining forces and it will, in the club’s opinion, prove beneficial in the long run.
“We can go for less than 13-a-side in a lower grade competition or we can stay at 15-a-side and maybe work with our neighbours,” he said.
“We have very good relationships with the club around with us, especially with Oram who we joined up with to form Clan na Gael.
“The policy is that if we can get a partner, we try and play in the highest division possible.
“You will, in our view anyway, reap the rewards of that and it’s something we will try and continue to pursue.
“We’re beginning to see the fruits of a lot of hard work back in the day with Frank Connolly and James Wilson and Ryan Murphy and all these guys making such a big impact at senior now.
“We have a lot of really exciting young prospects at the club.”
Of course it’s the senior team that are garnering the most attention over the last two years though as they have made a sensational rise through the ranks.
On September 30 last year, the side faced Blackhill in the Junior Championship semi-final at Grattan Park.
In a gripping contest, Toome led as the game-time remaining turned from minutes to seconds, but Andrew Burns landed a ‘45’ for Blackhill and the same player would goal in extra-time to break Toome hearts.
Rather than feel sorry for themselves, the side regrouped and six weeks later they defeated Sean McDermott’s to secure their first Junior League title since 1958. Promotion to the intermediate ranks was an added bonus.
“One of the defining characteristics of the club was shown clearly last year,” the chairperson continued.
“We exited the Junior Championship at the semi-final stage to Blackhill after extra-time.
“It was devastating because we were really targeting that as the breakthrough year to finally win a championship that has eluded us.
“We gathered ourselves up because we were still in contention in the league.
“After a few days we said let’s focus on that, and then going ahead and winning it was a terrific response.
“The whole thing exploded into life and the minute the cup arrived into the community and it has been a whirlwind experience since.”
That cup was their first adult one since they completed the intermediate double in 1975, and buoyed by the silverware, they have defied expectations on their return to intermediate football.
Tipped for a rapid return to the bottom tier, McConville’s men have instead recovered from a slow start and will face Carrickmacross this weekend with a spot in the Intermediate League final up for grabs.
“We have been in Junior for practically a generation with the exception of one season,” said Devlin.
“I think it was Cremartin we went up on the coattails of and it was a tough year for us. Things didn’t go our way and we came straight back down the next year.
“This year has been very, very different though.
“The beginning of the year was difficult because we had a whole cluster of injuries, all significant and all around the same time.
“We got the lads back, we weathered the storm and we went on a bit of a run in the league.
“That really sent a signal to the rest of the division that while it may have been considered that Toome would go straight back down, certainly we weren’t going down without a fight. It turns out we won that fight.
“Our objective was very clear at the beginning of the year. We had one objective and one objective only, and that was to stay in Intermediate football.
“Everything else has been a bonus and getting to the semi-final of the championship (losing to Aughnamullen 1-8 to 0-9) was certainly a real bonus.
“One of the defining weeks in my view, was the week after we were beaten by Inniskeen in the preliminary round.
“We were beaten by a goal but there was no sense of panic.
“The next round of the league was Inniskeen away on the Wednesday and then Corduff at home on the Saturday evening. We had an u-21 match with Clan na Gael on the Sunday too.
“That was a particularly tough week but we ended up beating Inniskeen and Corduff and I think we made a huge stride in securing intermediate football.”
It may be a new dawn on the pitch, but the club knows that their facilities are going to have to be brought up to scratch too.
A 3G all-weather synthetic pitch, opened nearly nine years ago, does get plenty of use, but overall they are a bit behind – and it’s something they plan to address.
“We’re not great, truth be told,’ Devlin said of their facilities.
“The focus was on the football and our youth and to get structures in place, which is an on-going thing.
“I can say with certainty that the focus is not switching to our facilities, but it is being looked at more.
“We’re looking at what we need to secure the club’s future and upgrading the facilities is high up the agenda.
“We have our plans together and it will be rolled out in a number of phases so we’re looking towards grant applications and things like that.
“What is there is a good foundation. It’s not a planned redevelopment, it’s an enhancement of the current facilities.”
Once again, kind-heartedness will play a big part in any future developments.
The great thing about being a small club is that members and sponsors all feel so involved, and their support is invaluable to Toome.
“It’s the people of the community who continue to support us that makes the club.
“Our sponsors too have been amazing, they’re really very generous.
“After we came apparent we were moving to intermediate last year I felt the senior team deserved a bit of gear in recognition.
“Within half an hour I had the cost and more covered, which tells a story.”
When the club convenes for their Annual General Meeting at the end of this month, it will be full of positive reports and renewed enthusiasm.
For Devlin the future of Toome is bright, and it’s only going to shine brighter.
“I was chairperson in the past and there is some difference between the two times.
“The last time was during the recession and people had more pressing matters like work and paying bills.
“There was less success in the club compared to the moment.
“I wouldn’t say it was bleak but times were much, much tougher.
“We kept things together though and now we are really enjoying some good times.
“Hopefully we can continue to move forward from here.”
* This article appeared in an earlier edition of Gaelic Life newspaper. Toome since lost their Intermediate League semi-final to Carrickmacross.