Ulster heavyweights Crossmaglen and Kilcoo set for Paul McGirr final clash
Paul McGirr U16 Club Champions Tournament
By Joe Rafferty
TWO of the heavyweights of Ulster club football meet in the final of the Paul McGirr U16 Club Champions tournament when Crossmaglen and Kilcoo go head to head on Sunday.
Ulster club rivalries don't come much bigger, with the new Canon Tom Breen stand in Gardrum Park set to be packed to the rafters, and the talent on display could herald another era of dominance for both clubs in their respective counties.
Crossmaglen are managed by the evergreen Tim Gregory and Gene O'Callaghan, with Gregory also taking charge of the 2013 Crossmaglen side who won this competition.
Several of that team have already broken into the senior set-up, with then-captain Oisin O'Neill progressing to the county side.
Cross have come through a tough draw, starting off in the preliminary round against a promising Lavey team where they recovered from a poor start to win by eight before beating Joe Brolly's St Brigid's in the quarter-final.
In last weekend's semi-final they came up against a Derrygonnelly side who played a very defensive game, with several sweepers in position. An early goal gave Cross a cushion but they were made to fight all the way to the final whistle.
The Armagh champions have a well-organised defence spearheaded by Miceál Murray and Ryan Duffy but it is around the centre field area where they are strongest. There they boast the Finnegan twins, Liam Og and Patsy, as well as Shane Morgan who switches regularly between midfield and full-forward.
Morgan's physicality and aerial ability is an asset which Cross utilise to the maximum and it is something that could pose huge problems for a smaller, lighter Kilcoo side.
Up front the majority of scores come from talented wing-forward Dara O'Callaghan and Oisin Doyle but the diminutive James Teelan will also have to be closely watched.
Kilcoo, under the tutelage of former Down star Conor Laverty and his management team, come into the final having scraped through an epic semi final against a fancied Carrickmore team in one of the best games of underage football seen in the province in recent years.
In their first round game they produced a dazzling attacking display against Monaghan champions Castleblayney Faugh's, rattling in eight goals, with full-forward Justin Clarke claiming four.
That last four showdown with Carrickmore was a step up in class for the young Magpies and they showed tremendous resolve to come from behind deep into injury-time with an equalising free from Shealan Johnston - younger brother of Down seniors Ryan and Jerome - before a sublime Clarke goal gave them the edge they needed in extra time.
The Carrickmore game showed however that Kilcoo are more than adept at both ends of the field, superb performances from Tiernan Fettes and Macdarragh Hynes restricting a free scoring Carmen forward line to just eight points throughout an enthralling 80 minutes.
The key to the game could be whether Cross can curb the influence of the mercurial Johnston, and it is likely that Ryan Duffy will be handed that job.
The final throws in at 2pm on Sunday and all proceeds from the tournament, which is now in its 18th year, go to ‘The Spirit of Paul McGirr Trust' which does some wonderful work with disabled and less fortunate children in Lusaka, Zambia.
2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Paul's death, and Sunday's final looks set to mark this special anniversary year in style.
For those unable to attend, the game will be streamed live on Teamtalkmag.com.