GAA Football

Aaron Kernan hoping Crossmaglen young guns can come of age against reigning county champions Maghery

Aaron Kernan is one of the senior heads on a youthful Crossmaglen side bidding to get back to the top in Armagh. Picture by Mark Marlow

CROSSMAGLEN are moving on without Jamie Clarke as they bid to bounce back from last year’s disappointment by booking their place in the final of the Armagh championship.

For only the second time since 1996, the Gerry Fegan Cup resides away from the trophy-laden clubrooms at Oliver Plunkett Park after Maghery landed a first-ever county championship.

They did so without seeing off Crossmaglen – Cullyhanna accounted for their south Armagh rivals at the semi-final stage 12 months ago – but the defending champions get the chance to put that right at the Athletic Grounds tonight.

However, Gareth O’Neill’s men will start as start as strong favourites to progress, even without Clarke.

The mercurial forward, nominated for an Allstar after some superb performances for Armagh during the summer, was last seen in club colours when the clubs last met on August 25.

Clarke didn’t feature in either win over Wolfe Tone’s or Clann Eireann, and Aaron Kernan admits the former Armagh kingpins have moved on.

“We’re just planning to be without him,” said the veteran wing-back.

“He hasn’t been involved with us at all since that night. To be fair, he hasn’t really been around a whole pile this last five years, he’s been in and out, and the way we’re looking on it as a squad is that it’s an opportunity for somebody else to stake a claim.

“Since that Maghery defeat, we’ve scored 1-19 and 1-23 in the two games since. There have definitely been signs of progression so we’re happy from that front.

“I don’t see him being back playing with us, and we’ll play away with who we have.”

Watching from the outside in as another club lays claim to the Armagh title will never feel normal for Kernan or the other men reared on such unparalleled success, but he insists Cross regrouped quickly after last year’s disappointment.

With so many young players coming through, the spine of the team that won back-to-back All-Ireland club titles in 2011 and 2012 is largely gone.

Transition can take time, but Cross have never been ones to hang around too long.

“I would always think that the best team wins the championship, and Maghery were fully deserving of it last year.

“Obviously this year, there had to be more hunger in us than there had been for a while given that we were starting a new season with no titles to our name.

“We put a decent emphasis on trying to get consistent performances and trying to get a winning run going during the league, which we probably hadn’t done for a number of years.

“It takes time for young guys to come in and even if they’ve had success at underage, it is a huge step up. But those boys are obviously good footballers and their attitude, their desire to keep Crossmaglen at the top of Armagh football, I couldn’t fault them for that.”

Maghery came out on top when the clubs met in the early rounds just over a month ago, but tonight Cross have the chance to win the one that really matters.

Yet Kernan says there is no added motivation to knock the reigning county champions from their perch en route to a possible 44th Armagh crown.

He added: “It’s not a position that we’ve been in too often before but I really don’t care who it is. Whoever is the team in the way, whether they’ve won one championship or 10 in-a-row, it’s an opponent.

“It’s a semi-final, and both teams just want to make a final. Outside of that, I couldn’t care less. We just need to make sure we’re up for it.”

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