GAA Football

Ballymacnab determined to see off Crossmaglen in Armagh senior final rematch

Ballymacnab Gavin McParland and Granemore Paidraig Hollywood in action during the Senior Football championship semi-final between Ballymacnab and Granemore at The Athletic Grounds Armagh on Saturday October 5-2019. Pic by Philip Walsh
Andy Watters

MOTIVATED by their performance in last year's Armagh senior decider, Ballymacnab Round Towers are determined to go a step further when the 2018 finalists meet again on October 20.

Inspired by full-forward Jack Grugan in the 2018 decider, the rural outfit led hot favourites Crossmaglen 1-11 to 0-11 at the break but could only manage four points in the second half as Cross progressed to a six-point victory.

The same margin separated the sides in the group stage of this year's championship but after seeing off stubborn Granemore in Saturday evening's first semi-final, Ballymacnab have their sights set on toppling Cross and lifting the Gerry Fagan Cup for the first time in their history.

“We felt that we had come so close last year and if we could just keep building on that we would be in a great position to push on this year and win the Gerry Fagan Cup for the first time,” said manager Bernie Murray.

“I'd like to think there's more to come from the players. They are very experienced, they have been through a lot and this is an itch they want to scratch. They want to win this championship.

“They are a brilliant bunch. Neil Alderdice is doing the strength and conditioning with them, Paul O'Connor is the coach with myself and no matter what the players are asked to do they do.

“We train twice-a-week so there aren't huge demands placed on them but they do an awful lot of work on their own and you can tell that. They are very well conditioned and they're ready to go.

“Cross have serious pedigree and tradition but we're looking forward to it.”

Former Monaghan minor manager Murray, who took over the reins from current Antrim manager Lenny Harbinson, rejected the suggestion that his men had left the 2018 title “behind them”.

“It was a brilliant first half,” he said.

“It was a very open game and probably we should have shut it down a wee bit more in the second half. Cross are a fantastic team and they came back very, very strong and were deserving winners on the day.”

Midway through the second half of a game played in monsoon conditions at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night, Ballymacnab looked likely winners against Granemore. But their neighbours produced a stirring late comeback to force extra-time only for ‘the 'Nab' to kick on to a three-point win.

“It was difficult for both sets of players and it was always going to be a battle that came down to fine margins,” said Murray.

“We knew that and our fellas are in good shape, they are well conditioned and there was a lot of good work done by Pascal Canavan, Brendan Trainor and Lenny Harbinson (previous managers) and we are just building on that.

“The boys have a body of work done over five years and we kept saying to them: ‘You are in good shape, you are good footballers, it's only a matter of applying that to the game'.

“OK, it was a setback to have to go to extra-time but in fairness to the boys, we were able to get them refocussed and reset and I thought we were the best team in extra-time.

“It was a great battle and there is great rivalry between the two teams but the match was played in a great spirit although it wasn't a great spectacle because of the conditions.

“The conditions probably were a leveller and in fairness to the referee (Stephen Murray), he tried to let the game flow and I thought he had a very good match in difficult conditions.

“It was a tough game but that's what you expect. A championship semi-final, whether you are in Derry or Down or Tyrone, it's going to be the same. We have some really, really good players, they are heads-up players and good footballers and this is the place to show they ability they have.

“We looked on it as a great opportunity and thankfully the boys are back in the final.”

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