They won't have it all their own way, but Crossmaglen can get their hands on Gerry Fegan Cup once more
Cormac Leonard Commercials Armagh Senior Football Championship final: Crossmaglen Rangers v Round Towers, Ballymacnab (tomorrow, 4pm, Athletic Grounds)
ON paper at least, there is a look of the irresistible force versus the immovable object about tomorrow’s Armagh final – though Ballymacnab have yet to face anything like the attacking threat posed by Crossmaglen in this year’s championship.
The south Armagh men have been scoring for fun while the Round Towers have conceded, on average, fewer than nine points per game since the start of the championship - although their 5-17 to 0-2 victory over Whitecross early on skews that figure somewhat.
So how much can be read into Crossmaglen’s renaissance? Going without a county final appearance since 2015 is hardly a famine, but once upon a time it seemed unimaginable that they could fail to reach decision day once, never mind twice.
This year Cross have looked ominously good at times, and never moreso than when handily dispatching last year’s champions Armagh Harps at the quarter-final stage when goals from Kyle Carragher and Johnny McKeever helped them to a 2-22 to 1-15 win.
They followed that up with a total of 0-19 to see off Cullyhanna – their semi-final conquerors in 2016 - in the last four.
And their attacking potential could be bolstered further for tomorrow’s game, with Donal Murtagh poised to welcome back the creative talent of Tony Kernan.
However, there are question marks over the fitness of Oisin O’Neill. The Cross midfielder spent time in a moon boot in the aftermath of that victory over Cullyhanna, but is expected to play.
His younger brother Rian has been in scintillating form – big, strong and athletic, he carries a huge threat no matter where he lines out tomorrow, and is likely to be picked up by Ryan Kennedy.
The experience of men like Carragher, Mickey McNamee and Johnny Hanratty remains as crucial as ever, and the same applies to Aaron Kernan.
It’s hard to believe it is five years since he last featured for Armagh considering that, even at 35 years of age, he is still playing some serious stuff.
Plenty thought he would be given his fill of it by young Cullyhanna speedster Ross McQuillan the last day, it was the Cross veteran who came out on top.
Ballymacnab are expected to try and stifle the Cross attack, and will likely get plenty of bodies around the middle third to deny the likes of Tony Kernan and Oisin O’Neill pulling strings from deep.
Supremely well-organised by former Monaghan star Bernie Murray, the Round Towers are a tough nut to crack, and they are hardly lacking in quality themselves.
Rory Grugan is the creative focal point of the side, an orchestrator supreme who will be charged with supplying the ammunition for the likes of brother Jack and Gavin McParland in the full-forward line.
James Morgan is expected to renew acquaintances with McParland after the pair came together during the league, while Rory Grugan could find Paul Hughes for company as Cross bid to limit his influence.
Ballymacnab need the county captain to have a huge game but, even then, it might not be enough. Cross will be aware of the likely congestion around the middle third and it would be no surprise to see them go direct, as the Round Towers have looked vulnerable at times under the high ball.
Rian O’Neill could find himself stationed in the square, while Carragher would also fancy his chances of mining gold given half a chance.
There was 25 points in it when these sides last met in a county final seven years ago – there will be no such margin this time around, but it is still difficult to imagine a different outcome when all is said and done.
Dublin star Philly McMahon was giving a talk in Crossmaglen on Thursday night – a serial winner talking to serial winners. It will be a big surprise if the men in black and amber don’t have the Gerry Fegan Cup in their clutches by the time darkness descends on the Athletic Grounds tomorrow evening.