Attack-minded Kilcoo have options galore for Crossmaglen
WHETHER or not Jamie Clarke plays this Sunday, spectators at his club Crossmaglen's clash with Kilcoo should be in for a treat.
The perennial Armagh champions are known for their attractive kick-passing style of play, while the four in-a-row Down winners have an array of attacking talent. Indeed, while most managers talk up the opposition, Magpies' boss Paul McIver openly enthused about the forward power at his disposal.
"What Kilcoo have that a lot of other teams don't have is a very positive attitude towards attacking," McIver said.
In one sense, that attacking approach starts from the back, as McIver explains. Defending was a strong suit under previous boss Jim McCorry, who ended Kilcoo's championship drought in 2009, before returning to lead them to hat-trick of titles from 2012 to '14, before McIver extended that to four consecutive crowns in this, his first season in charge.
McIver added: "They know themselves that they've worked so hard defensively over the past five or six years and they've got absolutely brilliant players, who can go man-for-man in defence.
"As a manager, that then allows you to pick six forwards. Any day that you can pick six forwards who are all equally adept at scoring, that gives other teams a serious problem to try to deal with. They don't get the opportunity to play a sweeper because everybody in defence has to mark a forward."
Such is the depth of Kilcoo's attacking talent that McIver didn't even name their better-known names, all of whom have represented Down, such as this year's county captain Conor Laverty, Paul Devlin, or the Johnston brothers, Jerome and Ryan.
"We are very lucky that we have such an array of forwards: we have young Dylan Ward and Marty Devlin and there's a young fella called Ceilum Doherty, who is just out of minors this year. He is just in the mould of Jerome Johnston: in the next year or two, Ceilum will be playing up front with Jerome and, I tell you what, they'll be a frightening prospect for any defence to deal with.
"We're very, very lucky in that regard, that we don't have to rely on just the one stand-out forward like a lot of other teams – we actually have eight players that can score."
Make that nine, in fact 10, at least. Centre half-back Darragh O'Hanlon powers forward to take scores from play and convert frees, but there's another added attacker – big midfielder Paul Greenan.
McIver mentions them both, unprompted, saying: "Paul Greenan is having an absolutely exceptional year in midfield and he's getting forward and getting on the score-sheet, which adds another dimension, and Darragh O'Hanlon coming forward from the half-back line. One thing this Kilcoo team has is loads of scoring threat."
Most of those forwards previously mentioned are of the smaller, speedy sort, so Greenan offers an alternative physical presence as a target man. So often was he up at full-forward in the quarter-final thrashing of Cavan's Kingscourt Stars that our correspondent listed him there in the team line-out, although McIver insisted Greenan remains a midfielder - with a twist.
"It was strange - Paul started back late this year and what we decided to do was give him a wee rest in there [full-forward] every so often," the Kilcoo boss said.
"What he has found is that, when he went in there for his rest, he brought a completely different dimension to our forward line. It was just the way things materialised. We have got loads of players who can interchange positions all the time. If Paul wants to go in there for four or five minutes for the break, the boys can use him effectively. But, no, he'll be playing around the middle of the field against Cross'."
With all those options, McIver is confident his side won't be stifled by the dreaded 'blanket', even if it's unlikely Cross' would adopt such tactics: "The players have worked very hard this year on breaking down a blanket defence. We knew at the start of this year that was the way teams were going to go. Every single league game, teams were putting 14 men back behind the ball.
"We used that to get a structure and set-up so that we knew, if this comes in Ulster, we could deal with it. Kingscourt got men back behind the ball but, because we've been so used to it all year, it made no difference."
Kilcoo probably won't register the 3-15 they put past the Cavan champs, but supporters can certainly expect entertainment from them and Crossmaglen.