GAA Football

Armagh should build team around emerging talent in Crossmaglen says Rangers stalwart Johnny Hanratty

Crossmaglen Rangers celebrate after winning the Armagh championship on Sunday. Picture by Bill Smyth
Neil Loughran

ARMAGH boss Kieran McGeeney was an interested spectator at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday afternoon, and Crossmaglen stalwart Johnny Hanratty has urged him to build his Orchard side around the new county champions.

Cross came on strong in the final 20 minutes to see off the challenge of Ballymacnab in a gripping encounter, reeling off eight points in-a-row to ensure the Gerry Fagan Cup would be returning to the south Armagh club for the first time since 2015.

There is no shortage of emerging talent among the Cross ranks, with Rian O’Neill picking up the man of the match award after a stunning second half performance and Cian McConville showing his class from the bench.

However, most observers felt Hanratty had played as big a part as anybody else – and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“I’m disappointed with Rian there, I don’t know how he got man of the match to tell you the truth,” joked Hanratty.

“I don’t mind the young fellas getting them, let them at it.”

The 30-year-old only returned to Donal Murtagh’s panel during the summer but looks as fit as ever, making a huge impact in the latter stages of the championship.

And while Hanratty hasn’t been around the county panel in recent years, he feels McGeeney has a well of talent at his disposal wearing Crossmaglen colours.

“I only came back to training three months ago.

“I put the head down and got stuck into it. I was doing a bit of extra training so I wasn’t long getting into it - after six weeks I was fit enough.

“I’m glad I came back, there’s a great bunch of young boys here. There six or seven young boys there and they’re the future of Armagh football.

“There’s no point looking any further – they may take seven or eight out of this team and try to work around them. There’s no point saying a lie about it.”

And that strength of panel, the blend of youth and experience, was a major factor in Cross getting back to the top of the tree in Armagh.

“There’s an awful depth in this team,” said Hanratty.

“There’s three or four boys on the bench who could maybe start any given day. At the start of the year I doubted myself whether it would come together but we got our heads down and it eventually came.

“We’ve just gelled at the right time, which is what you want. We’re peaking at the business end of the year. We don’t want leagues, we just want championships.”

Sunday’s victory made it 22 final wins in-a-row since their last decider defeat in 1983. Ballymacnab looked to have them on the rack for long spells, especially when Jack Grugan was shooting the lights out in the first half, but Cross – as always – found a way to win in the end.

“It’s just what we live for. We love it,” continued Hanratty.

“We knew we’d get a 10 minute purple patch at some stage, so once we got that we were flying. We adapted a wee bit better, kept our positions on the wings and intercepted their kick-outs. We worked the plan around that, and after that it was just pressure, pressure, pressure and eventually they cracked.

“All we wanted was to get to the final, it didn’t matter if we won every game by a point on the way. We didn’t play our best football today - we only played for 10 minutes if I’m going to be honest but we went six or seven points up and that was it.

“I’m happy enough with it but we’ve a lot to build on. We’re only getting going.”

Another venture into the Ulster Club gets under way against Tyrone champions Coalisland on November 3 – not that Hanratty was too worried about the new Tyrone champions in the midst of the Cross celebrations on Sunday.

“I don’t even know anything about them,” he admitted. “I don’t give a shite. Let them worry about us.”

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