By Manus Loughran
All three of Armagh’s Championship winners will be playing in Ulster this coming Sunday, All Ireland favourites Crossmaglen will travel to Omagh and there will be an exciting double header taking place at St. Oliver Plunkett Park.
Crossmaglen Rangers vs Omagh St. Enda’s
There was no major surprise in the Armagh SFC this year as Crossmaglen secured their eighteenth title in 19 years, as they hammered Armagh Harps in the final a fortnight ago at the Athletic Grounds.
Crossmaglen Rangers have shown how football should be played since that first success of their stunning spell. They have been a great role model for the sport and a top representative for Armagh GAA, the only downfall being, nobody in the County can seem to get close to their levels.
Already pundits are trying to think of teams that could potentially stop them in Ulster before their opening match, and they’re struggling for answers now that Kilcoo and Balinderry are out of the picture.
Bookies are pricing the six time All Ireland champions at 1/8 to win on Sunday and have placed them as heavy favourites to win the Ulster SFC for the eleventh time in the club’s history.
It will be interesting to see how Omagh deal with the occasion and whether they let Cross’ roaring reputation get into their minds beforehand. They wouldn’t have a great amount of experience with their last appearance in the Ulster SFC coming in 1988.
Although they did win the Ulster U-21 Championship in 2011 and have now got seven inter-county players in their squad.
Oisin McConville didn’t hold back when he was discussing both his and co-manager John McEntee’s expectations with ArmaghI: “I think we can achieve what we want to achieve (this year), I think if we’re focussed enough, if we’re able to set our goals that little bit higher, I think there’s definitely an Ulster Championship in us.
“It would be stupid to say anything different because that’s what we set our sights on at the start of the year. If we’re honest, myself and John didn’t take over this team to win the county titles, we’re looking further afield, whether or not that happens is another thing but it’s certainly what we’re preparing for.”
Omagh would have a firm defence, they restricted both Eglish and Dromore to less than ten points in their Championship clashes.
They would need to maintain those high levels and ensure that this a low scoring game to give themselves a chance, but then again, that’s no easy challenge considering Crossmaglen have an average winning tally of 14 points in Championship football this year.
St Paul’s vs Derrylin
St Paul’s will face Derrylin after the Keady match, with the game due to start at 2:30pm.
The Lurgan side won the Intermediate Championship after beating Grange in a final that will be remembered as one of the best this County has produced in recent times.
Just like St Paul’s, Derrylin were far from County Championship favourites at the start of the year, and even endured quite a difficult league campaign.
With ten teams in Fermanagh’s Division 2, the League split after the opening nine, Derrylin made the top five but finished 4th in Division 2a.
St Paul’s have been very consistent all year and some of their players have been playing top quality football. They finished top of the Intermediate League, losing just two of their 15 matches and didn’t require the use of the freshly introduced Championship back door.
ArmaghI readers must be fed up with our ranting over Andrew Murnin, but he has just been that good this year. His aerial ability is sensational and he is a versatile player who can put in a shift at midfield or full back.
There have been many debates about his best position with some arguing he could have a bigger influence around the middle, but Shane McConville who has to be regarded as one of the best managers in Armagh, prefers to have him causing havoc in front of the opponents goal.
St Paul’s should have enough to progress to the next stage, but McConville won’t allow them to enter the match with too much confidence. That’s maybe what happened in their semi final with Forkhill and they ended up going in at half time trailing by six, but a powerful comeback ensured their place in the final which lead to that deserved success.
Keady vs Drumhowan
Keady will take on Monaghan side Drumhowan, and manager Sean McCabe has already admitted to not having a large amount of information on his opponents, but he will be fairly wary of their recent successes.
Three Monaghan Junior Championship titles in the past seven years and an Ulster title in 2008 shows that this could be tricky task for Keady.
O’Dwyers won the Sean Quinn Perpetual Cup with reasonable ease, each of their five opponents struggled to deal with their free flowing style and impressive fitness levels.
McCabe set a target at the beginning of the year, for his side to get promoted and back playing Intermediate football. But he admitted after the County Final that he was fairly surprised at just how much his side stood out, as he feels they’re in the middle of a rebuilding process and haven’t even reached their full potential.
“When I took over two years ago, through emigration and retirement, we lost 11 of our starting 15 which is a heavy loss for any club.
“We were struggling with underage and that, but thank God everything’s looking up now, we got the boys out this year, we said we’d give it a push and we’re reaping the rewards.”
Keady have reached their targets and done that in a spectacular way, the Ulster Championship will come as a bonus, but a bonus that may be beneficial to this young and impressive side.
The experience gained at this level may help them in the future as many will be expecting some testing games in the years ahead.