GAA Football

Team spirit will always give Armagh champions Crossmaglen a chance says Rian O'Neill

Allstar-nominated Armagh star Rian O'Neill was central to the Crossmaglen comeback last Sunday. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

THE one thing that’s guaranteed from men in Crossmaglen’s black and amber jersey is that they will not back down without a fight, says Rian O’Neill.

The Armagh champions are now preparing for a crack at the Ulster Club Championship, starting against Monaghan’s Clontibret, after a remarkable second half rally saw them blow away Ballymacnab in the Orchard county decider last Sunday.

O’Neill provided the platform for the Rangers comeback with a dominant display in midfield as the south Armagh side recovered from trailing by five points to win by nine.

“One thing about this team – we’ll never die,” said Allstar nominated O’Neill, younger brother of team-mate Oisin.

“That’s one thing about Crossmaglen Rangers, we’ll never back down, no matter what and we showed that. We were four points behind and we got it back and then we were five points down and we got it back again. So that’s one thing about us, we’ll never give in and I never thought we were in trouble.

“You look around the team and there’s talent everywhere. You back the boy who’s by your side and you stick by them the whole way through.

“Thank God we pulled it out of the bag at the end. It’s even sweeter winning a game like that. In my view there’s no point going out and hammering a team by 15-20 points. We made it hard work for ourselves but it’s even sweeter then when you win.”

Next up for Crossmaglen is a meeting with Clontibret, managed by former Rangers star and manager John McEntee and spearheaded by Conor McManus, a player O’Neill rates as “the best forward in Ireland”.

“We’ll have to go away and come up with a plan to stop him,” he added and he is well aware that his team will need to produce a much more consistent display to progress to the semi-final stage of a competition they haven’t won since 2015.

“In the first half we were disappointed enough with our performance and in the second half we started slow but for 15 minutes there we were devastating,” said O’Neill.

“That really took us through in the end.

“Even in the warm-up I thought we were a bit flat and we were flat to get going at the start of the first half, it took us a while to get into it and there were loose men around the middle.

“In the second half we pushed up on their kick-outs and started to dominate and that’s what really brought us back into the game.”

Meanwhile, Crossmaglen manager Kieran Donnelly rates Clontibret, who will include Monaghan stars like Vinny Corey and Dessie alongside McManus, as a “top level team” and he knows manager McEntee will have the inside track on his players.

“John knows all about us,” he said.

“Congratulations to him because he went down there to Clontibret, they’re a brilliant club and beating Scotstown (in the Monaghan final) is no mean achievement.

“We look forward to the game. He knows about us but he’s the manager, he’s not on the pitch, and we know a lot of their players – a lot of them play for Monaghan at county level – so our boys who play with Armagh will know them.

“Clonitbret is a who’s-who of players, they are a top level team and we will prepare for them. We have a tradition in Ulster and we would love to get back to that again but there’s no guarantee and if we produce the first half performance we did today I’ll not be standing here after the Clontibret game talking about winning because we won’t get away with it. It’s something we have to work on.”

Former Crossmaglen minor manager Donnelly has refreshed his side with young stars like the O’Neills, Cian McConville, Garvan Carragher and Callum Cumiskey. He says his players are able to make vital calls for themselves in the thick of the action.

“It doesn’t matter what I say because when they cross that line – bar me making a substitution – they have to dictate the play and dictate the game,” he said.

“It falls back on the players and that’s why you have to have quality players who can think for themselves and bring the game to a different level.”

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