GAA Football

Crossmaglen stars set for return as Armagh gear up for 2019 campaign

Crossmaglen midfielder Oisin O'Neill will return to the Armagh fold for next season
Andy Watters

ARMAGH’S prospects for a successful 2019 have improved significantly with the news that several Crossmaglen players are expected to return to the panel.

The Irish News understands that Rangers midfielder Oisin O’Neill, his younger brother Rian, fit-again Paul Hughes and James Morgan will all be available while Jamie Clarke has also been linked with a return to the Orchard squad.

There was no suggestion of a club versus county split, but the talented quartet missed last year’s campaigns and even with them absent Armagh won Division Three and came within a whisker of reaching the Super 8s before losing a thrilling round four Qualifier against Roscommon.

The O’Neill brothers and Hughes are certain starters in tomorrow evening’s heavyweight quarter-final clash in the Armagh senior championship between Cross and defending champions Armagh Harps at the Athletic Grounds.

Experienced defender Morgan has been struggling with a knee injury and missed the Rangers’ previous outing against Clann Eireann. Team manager Donal Murtagh explained that he could return against the 2017 Gerry Fagan Cup winners.

“He has a wee niggle in the knee,” said Murtagh, who guided Cross to three in-a-rows in Armagh and Ulster and the 2007 All-Ireland club title during his first spell as manager.

“We did play him in a couple of games and he aggravated it again. He’s the sort of character that the leg would have to be hanging off him for him not to play.

“We had to hold him back and we didn’t risk him against Clann Eireann for his own good. He could be in our plans for Saturday night, if needs be he could be called upon.”

There are reports that Morgan’s former club and county team-mate Clarke is keen to return to Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh panel next year. The talented forward played for New York in 2018 and won the New York senior club championship with Longford earlier this month. His inter-county future has previously been a matter of conjecture, but Murtagh says Clarke will not be involved with his native Crossmaglen in the county championship.

“He’s not a member of our club,” said Murtagh.

“He had to get a permanent transfer to play for New York. I think he is home at the minute but he’s not going to feature because he’s not a member of the club. He’s not on our radar at all.”

After an uncertain start yielded one-point wins over Silverbridge and Madden, Crossmaglen’s forwards were in fine form in round three of the round robin group stage of the Armagh senior championship, blasting 4-15 in a 20-point victory over Clann Eireann.

“It’s a young team and they’re maturing all the time,” said Murtagh.

“Obviously you still have the Kernans and one or two others but a lot of the central positions are being filled by 20-21-22 year-olds.

“We’re maturing all the time and we’re improving all the time so hopefully we can maintain that progress.

“We played well against Clann Eireann in the last match and that was probably our best performance in the last few months. We had Oisin O’Neill back in the middle of the field and we dominated from start to finish and we were fit to play at a high intensity for 60 minutes.

“We never gave them a sniff but in championship football you have to produce it again – that’s what the championship is all about.”

Donal Murtagh's Crossmaglen take on Armagh Harps at the Athletic Grounds on Saturday night

Saturday night’s opponents Armagh Harps lost to Maghery (the 2016 champions) but recorded wins over Annaghmore and Killeavy to make the knock-out phase.

“Harps weren’t going that well in the league but the last few weeks they’ve been improving every game and they’ve got players back and they’re a strong outfit,” said Murtagh.

“They are certainly a formidable team. They’re the county champions because they were good enough to win it last year and you don’t become a bad team overnight.

“Championship is championship and it could bring the best the best out of them.”

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