The Championship

Cullyhanna and Maghery look to lift Armagh SFC for the first time

  Cullyhanna’s Malachy Mackin will be hoping to fire their clubs to Armagh championship glory tomorrow
Joe McManus

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Donnelly Group Armagh Senior Football Championship final: St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna v Maghery Sean McDermott’s (tomorrow, Athletics Grounds, 4pm)

When the Gerry Fegan Cup is handed over at the Athletic Grounds tomorrow it will be an historic moment as neither finalists have ever had their name etched on the silverware.

Maghery have appeared in several finals, their last back in 1993 but have yet to bring the prize home. Cullyhanna have had a more recent experience when they reached their first ever final in 2013, beaten by neighbours Crossmaglen 0-17 to 0-8 Maghery, perhaps have had the easier route though they haven’t been overly impressive.

They did, however, make light work of Clann Eireann’s challenge in the semi-final, one of the up-and-coming teams in the county.

From goalkeeper Johnny Montgomery out, Maghery have an accomplished side, newcomer Ben Crealey teaming up formidably with the towering James Lavery at midfield.

Defensively sound, they have only conceded three championship goals, two of them leaked in the quarter-final against Dromintee. Kevin Nugent, Ciaran Higgins, Gerard Campbell, Oisin Lappin and Niall Forker comprise a solid unit that won’t be easily penetrated.

Their attacking flair has been manifested in the consistency of the Forkers Aiden and Stefan, Conor Mackle, Stephen Cusack, Shea Tennyson and Ronan Lappin.

On their way to the final, Maghery scaled the hurdles of neighbours Annaghmore (1-15 to 0-9) Wolfe Tones (0-12 to 0-7), Dromintee (1-15 to 2-5) and Clann Eireann (2-17 to 1-9). This was on the back of a splendid league campaign, when they were just pipped for the title by St Pat’s. They finished on high note, defeating Crossmaglen which stood them in good stead for the championship.

In their memorable semi-final defeat of the perennial favourites Crossmaglen, league champions St Pat’s were able to parade their top marksman Aiden Nugent for the first time. A serious hand injury had kept him sidelined. What an impact he made, shooting 0-10, eight from frees. 

The return of county panelist Micheal Murray also paid handsome dividends, the skilful corner-back who loves to attack playing an influential role covering every blade of grass.

Another county squad member Sean Connell has made his new full-back berth his own and in the company of Murray, Stephen Reel, Gary McCooey, Paudie McCreesh and Conor Connolly, should once again be central to the effectiveness of this tried and tested unit.

Barry McConville and Pearse Casey will probably start at midfield and the vanguard, on whom hopes will really be pinned, will include Aiden Nugent, Mal Mackin, Eugene Casey, Shea Hoey and Jason Duffy.

Cullyhanna’s march to the final saw them lower the colours of Pearse Og (2-20 to 1-5), Sarsfields (1-15 to 1-9), Wolfe Tones (1-13 to 1-7) and Crossmaglen (1-15 to 0-17), the biggest scalp of all. 

It’s interesting that their journey witnessed a comfortable victory over Pearse Og, the only other side to have topped Crossmaglen  in the championship over the past 21 years.

Midfield will play a major role, McConville and Casey up against Lavery and Crealey but it’s hard to envisage this final being decided on midfield supremacy alone.

It’s a battle that could be won or lost on the sideline where former Orchard player Shane McConville will be testing his wits against Monaghan’s Mick O’Dowd, both shrewd tacticians who are sure to have their charges highly motivated and primed.

Cullyhanna will probably pump long balls in to their go-to man Mal Mackin, the hero of the Cross defeat. No doubt Maghery will have been doing their homework in this respect, but their south Armagh opponents will have options as they are a strong attacking running outfit.

Nerves should be quickly dispelled of as both contestants are in the same boat, never having won the title and should be able to settle into their stride fairly smartly.

Maghery have always been looked upon as more of a league team so the time has come to give themselves a new identity.

From the start of the season there has been a growing belief by the loughshore that this could be the Sean MacDermott’s year and, with Crossmaglen out of the way, that faith must surely have magnified.

Much will depend on how firmly St Pat’s feet are back on the ground. Have they already played their final against Cross?

There is a consensus in the county that Maghery can clinch it. A close audit of the scoring aggregates would suggest there is little between the teams. It really is a toss of the coin and a draw can certainly not be ruled out. 

The fact that St Pat’s have met four teams from the stronger Senior League section cannot be overlooked.

However, championship is a different ball game and perhaps Maghery may have the more prolific attackers on the day to make their dream finally come true.

A large crowd is expected to hail a new name on the trophy whilst rekindling the many epic finals between north and south.

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