HOME advantage could prove crucial in the opening rounds of the Armagh Senior Football Championship, which kicks off this weekend. All eyes will be on Davitt Park this evening (7pm) as champions Crossmaglen begin their title defence against Clan na Gael.
The two teams dominated the club scene in the 70s and 80s, but more recently championship clashes between have been few and far between.
Oisin O’Neill is back to full fitness and his presence is a massive boost for Anthony Cunningham’s men, who should have too much for an up-and-coming Clans outfit that will rely on Stefan Campbell and Shane McPartlan.
Sarsfields and Mullaghbawn make up Group D and both will be eager to get their campaigns off to winning starts (4pm). Mullaghbawn are without Eoghan McDonnell and Declan Loye through injury and suspension respectively.
The High Moss men are difficult to beat at home and with the experience of the McGeown’s, the Stevenson’s and the McAlinden’s, Brendan Hughes’ side look like a safe bet.
Shane O’Neill suffered relegation from Division 1B in the league but will be buoyed by the return of their county contingent as they welcome Armagh Harps to Camlough (5.30pm).
Connaire and Ciaran Mackin, along with Greg McCabe are the main men for the Shane’s, while the Harps will look to Declan McKenna and Joe McElroy in the absence of Charlie Vernon, who retired at the start of the season.
Pascal Canavan’s side are among the favourites for the title and the 2017 champions are expected to come out on top of this potential banana skin.
Four SFC games take place on Sunday, with the South Armagh derby clash of Dromintee and Killeavy getting things started (1pm). Dromintee earned promotion from Division 1B this year and will be confident of causing an upset.
Killeavy have been tipped as a coming force but have yet to make any inroads in the championship. With Clann Eireann native and 2021 championship winning manager Tommy Coleman at the helm, perhaps this is the year they make their mark.
Ciaron O’Hanlon is back having missed the entire county season through injury, while Conor O’Neill’s confidence will be sky high after a great campaign in the orange and white.
Also, in the proverbial ‘group of death’ is Maghery and Ballymacnab (4pm) and the Loughshore men will have home advantage when the pair, who clashed in last year’s quarter-final, meet on Sunday afternoon.
Maghery won by the minimum of margins last season, after extra time, and have retained the services of experienced heads Stefan Forker and Stephan Cusack, although Ronan Lappin will be a big miss in the centre of the park.
County colleagues Aidan Forker and Rory Grugan could lock horns while the Nab will look to Ryan Kennedy, Gavin McParland and Kieran Hughes to get them over the line.
Last year’s beaten finalists Granemore are on the road tomorrow as they face Grange (2.15pm). Grange have already been relegated to Intermediate football for next season, while talisman Ethan Rafferty is sidelined through injury.
Niall McAleenan’s Granemore will be keen to go one step further than 2022 and the return of Kieran Toner adds a wealth of experience.
Division 1A league champions and 2021 SFC winners Clann Eireann are widely tipped as the closest challengers to Crossmaglen’s crown, and they begin their campaign against St Peter’s in a high anticipated all-Lurgan aafair (6pm).
St Peter’s, managed by ex-Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimmons, have Aaron Findon and Niall McConville to call on but with Tiernan Kelly, Barry McCambridge and Conor Turbitt in their ranks, Clann Eireann look to have too much firepower.