Oisin O'Neill among experienced trio expected to start for Crossmaglen against Madden Raparees
Armagh Senior Football Championship round one: Crossmaglen Rangers v Madden Raparees (tonight, the Athletic Grounds, 5pm)
OISIN O’Neill, Callum Cumiskey, Tony Kernan could all return to the Crossmaglen starting 15 for tonight’s first round clash with Madden at the Athletic Grounds.
O’Neill, Cumiskey and veteran Kernan were sprung from the bench to see Cross over the line in a nip-and-tuck preliminary round meeting with Clan na Gael a fortnight ago but could be in from the get-go against the talented Raparees outfit this evening. Caolan Dillon, who played no part in the preliminary round game, is also fully fit.
Two goals from Armagh skipper Stefan Campbell pushed Cross all the way two weeks’ ago and Mickey Grimley’s Madden outfit, quarter-finalists in three of the last four seasons, should prove another tough nut for the Rangers to crack.
The Raparees took the notable scalp of Ballymacnab Round Towers in the first round last year but exited in the last eight after losing a penalty shoot-out against Pearse Og. The previous season, Madden had beaten Maghery and Dromintee in the now defunct group stage format but came a cropper against Granemore in the first knockout round.
With Orchard county star Niall Grimley in midfield and Joe Sheridan and Conor Grimley operating up front, Madden have quality to go with their experience and they came agonisingly close to beating the eventual champions when these sides met back in 2018. Cross emerged with a 2-16 to 2-15 win on that occasion and manager Stephen Kernan expects another engrossing battle this time around.
“They are a good club in Armagh, they’ve always had good players and good camaraderie and they had underage success over the last few years which is the backbone of the team now,” he said.
“They’ve had a lot of good coaching and Ronan Gallagher (former Fermanagh goalkeeper and assistant-manager) has been at the forefront of that.
“Three weeks’ ago they beat us in an U19 championship final and there will be a crossover of players from those teams playing on both sides tomorrow. They’ve got the likes of Niall Grimley but it’s not just him – they have Conor Grimley and other very good players in their team and when they’re all put together, they’re a dangerous side.
“We won’t look beyond them. We only need to look at what Madden did at this stage last year, so we won’t look past them at all.”
The preliminary round game could have gone either way after Clan na Gael staged a late comeback but Cross came out on top and the game should stand them in good stead for this evening’s clash.
“It’s always good to get championship games under your belt,” said Kernan.
“We went into the Clan na Gael game missing a few boys and we’re a fortnight down the line in getting them all fitter so they’ll all be in a better place for tomorrow and as a group we’ll be in a better place for it.
“The Clan na Gael game was exactly what we needed. They caused us a lot of trouble but for us it was good to get the test and we had the answers for it.”
IT’S do-or-die from the start in the Armagh Senior Championship and, as Ballymacnab found out last year, one slip and the losers’ season comes to an abrupt end.
In today’s first game Killeavy – surprise semi-finalists last year when they pushed Crossmaglen all the way after they’d beaten Grange and Armagh Harps en route to the last four – take on Annaghmore.
Crossmaglen Rangers versus Madden Raparees is next up and then defending champions Maghery begin the defence of their campaign in a heavyweight tussle against Armagh Harps at the Athletic Grounds.
Harps dethroned the loughshore outfit in 2017 to win the Gerry Fegan Cup for the first time since 1991 and go into tonight’s game having beaten their opponents home and away in the league.
The city side finished runners-up in Division One just behind champions Dromintee who begin their campaign against near neighbours Silverbridge. That league success should give Dromintee – who lost five finals in the ‘Noughties’ to Crossmaglen by four, five, two, three and three points respectively – confidence as they chase what be their first championship title at senior level.
Elsewhere, this weekend, Grange take on Clann Eireann and Mullaghbawn do battle with south Armagh neighbours Cullyhanna who last reached the final back in 2016.