Ballymacnab clash with Armagh Harps in Armagh championship
Donnelly Group Armagh Senior Football Championship:
Armagh Harps v Ballymacnab Round Towers
(Friday, the Athletic Grounds, 8.30pm)
RORY GRUGAN admits he has “blotted out” his club Ballymacnab’s one-and-only appearance in an Armagh senior championship final.
The Round Towers club were surprise packets in the 2011 season and took on a Crossmaglen side that was building towards a successful All-Ireland club campaign - the result was a 2-22 to 0-3 hammering. Five years on, Grugan and his team-mates are preparing to begin the 2016 championship with a first round clash against an Armagh Harps side that has been well beaten by Cross in the last two finals.
Ballymacnab, now under the management of Lenny Harbinson, who guided St Gall’s to the All-Ireland title in 2010, and coach Brendan Trainor, go into the Athletic Grounds showdown as underdogs, having lost to the Harps in last year’s championship and twice in the league this season.
“We were obviously delighted to get to the club’s first county final and we beat our neighbours and rivals Granemore in the semi-final, which made it a bit more special but, to be honest, I’ve sort of blotted it out,” Armagh star Grugan admitted as he looked back on the 2011 final.
“It’s one of those days that you just look back on and wonder ‘what the hell happened?’. That was a Cross team going on to win the All-Ireland club. We had hoped to catch them on the hop and that they would be a bit complacent, but a few of them told me after that they were extremely motivated and they just blew us out of the water and we were rabbits caught in the headlights.”
The Harps - whose last Armagh title came 25-years-ago - won by six points when these sides met at the semi-final stage last season. Although the Cathedral city side lost heavily in the past two finals (18 points last year and 17 in 2014), Grugan says they can “definitely consider themselves to be right up behind Cross”.
“I know they’ll be wanting to put right what happened to them,” he added.
“They were deserving winners last year and we have that ground to make up. We’re going in as underdogs, but it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Alongside Grugan in attack on Friday night will be fellow Armagh star Gavin McParland and, with Jack Grugan (Rory’s younger brother) and Brian McComb in support, ‘the ’Nab’ have a potent forward unit: “We have a good few young lads coming through, the likes of Finnian Maguire, Oisin McGivern and Conor McGivern, our goalkeeper,” he said.
“We have a good strong squad and, as a club, we’ve always been very lucky that we get good numbers out for training and boys stick with it no matter what way it’s going. In the new structure in 1A, you’re playing the best teams every week and, when we had injuries and the county boys weren’t playing, we were struggling to get wins - we lost our first eight games.
“We were just being punished by the better teams but, in the second half of the season, we came a bit better and put a few wins together. We were disappointed to get relegated, but we’re hoping for a good championship campaign to make up for it - playing those top teams will hopefully stand to us at this time of year.”
Meanwhile, the Harps are backboned by Armagh goalkeeper Paddy Morrisson and have a formidable midfield pairing in Charlie Vernon and Declan McKenna: “They’re a big, powerful team,” said Grugan.
“Charlie and Decky are in the middle and then they have a few good runners like Conor White. They’ve had our number a couple of times, so we know we’ll definitely be up against it. We started the year badly, but we’re playing well at the right time of year.
"We’re underdogs, but that’s normally the way we go into games, so we’re not too worried.”