Defending champions Maghery braced for Crossmaglen backlash in Armagh Senior Championship showdown
Donnelly Group Senior Football Championship: Crossmaglen v Maghery (tonight, the Athletic Grounds, throw-in 8.30pm)
IT took Maghery 110 years to claim their first Armagh senior championship and the Sean McDermott’s club would dearly love to make it two-in-two this season.
The reigning Orchard county champions began the defence of their hard-won Gerry Fegan Cup by seeing off Madden in their championship opener but tonight they run into a Crossmaglen side that will be bristling with determination to regain the crown their club held for 19 out of the 20 previous seasons.
Crossmaglen were knocked out by losing finalists Cullyhanna in the penultimate round last season but have found form and focus this year. The south Armagh powerhouse emerged six-point winners when the sides met in the league back in May and the Rangers went on to top the table with Maghery coming in second seven points adrift.
That they got so close without their county contingent – Aidan Forker, Ben Crealey, Oisin Lappin and Ciaran Higgins – was testament to the quality in the squad. Of course Cross had to do without Jamie Clarke, Oisin O'Neill, James Morgan and Paul Hughes as they took the title.
Rian O’Neill, younger brother of county star Oisin and son of manager Gareth, was one of several youngsters who flourished in that campaign and the younger O’Neill was outstanding in Rangers’ first round win over Whitecross. Tony Kernan and Clarke both missed that game but could return to club colours tonight.
Long-serving midfielder James Lavery captained Maghery to last year’s championship glory.
He doesn’t dismiss his own side’s chances, but admits that Cross are favourites to win tonight.
“They’re going to be big favourites, they gave us a beating in the league and then they romped to the title,” he said.
“They’ll go in as big favourites, the have a big squad of players and we’re going to need a performance to get a victory.
“They have quality players, but we have good players too and as long as we play to our full potential we believe we have a good chance against them. It’s getting that big performance out of ourselves.”
Maghery had been in the championship shake-up for several seasons before their breakthrough last year. The players enjoyed their success and former Armagh star Lavery says they remain hungry for more.
“Last year was the first county title in the club’s history and you sort of get addicted to that, you want that success again,” he said.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. It took us a long time to get where we did last year but the hunger is still there. Last year we got a bit of luck, we got some momentum and we had performances out of our big players in the campaign.
“It’s going to take the exact same thing again this year, the only thing is that we’ll have a second chance after tomorrow night. It’s not knockout football just yet but we’ll be going there to win the game.”
The loser tomorrow night goes into the backdoor, but Lavery doesn’t expect that to be a factor in Crossmaglen manager Gareth O’Neill’s thinking.
“It doesn’t matter when you get Cross,” he said.
“They’re still going to be very dangerous, they’re going to be the same opposition. We know where we are, we’ve had a few good friendlies but we know Cross are the cream of the crop when it comes to club football, not just in Armagh but in Ulster.
“You want to go out and test yourself against them and we’re all looking forward to it. We’ll give them a good go anyway.”