Ballymacnab hope to recapture form again up-and-coming Clann Eireann as Crossmaglen face surprise packets Silverbridge in Armagh Championship semi-finals
Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final: Ballymacnab Round Towers v Clann Eireann (tomorrow, the Athletic Grounds, 3pm)
IT'S MOMENTUM versus championship experience in tomorrow's first semi-final when up-and-coming Clann Eireann take on tried-and-tested Ballymacnab at the Athletic Grounds.
Lurgan outfit Clann Eireann clinched promotion from Division 1B this year and kicked on with a 12-point first round win against Grange before they dethroned defending champions Maghery at the quarter-final stage.
Meanwhile, Ballymacnab have won just three games so far this year and all by one-point margins. Beating Maghery was their only victory in a league campaign that ended in relegation and since then the 2018 and 2019 county finalists have ground out precarious victories against Granemore and, in the quarter-final, Pearse Og.
Their form has been unconvincing but the Round Tower still stands and with the experience in the side and the proven quality of the Grugan brothers, Rory and Jack, and Armagh team-mate Ryan Kennedy to rely on, Mick O'Dowd's men are capable of clicking into gear tomorrow.
Throughout the league, O'Dowd was without his three county players and was also restricted by “a dose of injuries”. In total he used 39 players during the ill-fated Division 1A programme and tomorrow he'll be without former Armagh forward Gavin McParland who tore his hamstring in the early stages of the championship opener against Granemore.
However, with two wins behind them, and most of their injured players now back in service, O'Dowd will hope that his players are finally in a position to recapture the form of a couple of years ago.
“In the Granemore game we were out on our feet after 40 minutes because we hadn't the training done – so many guys had been out injured,” he said.
“Ronan McMahon, our trainer, did a brilliant job of getting them out on the field but they just didn't have it in their legs. In the second game (Pearse Og) they had extra six or seven minutes in their legs so they lasted a bit longer and we just about got over the line.”
Goalkeeper Conor McGivern made two fine saves to keep the Ogs at bay and he will expect to have to work hard again tomorrow against a Clann Eireann attack spearheaded by Armagh star Conor Turbitt.
“Beating the county champions was a brilliant win for them,” said O'Dowd.
“They are an exceptionally strong team, a big, strong, physical, running team and we'll have our work cut out against them but that's what you expect at the semi-final stage.
“They've had a fabulous year – up from Division 1B, they're putting up big scores, they've put out the county champions… They must be very confident in what they're doing and they must be following a strict-enough gameplan. They're on the up and we're going to have to rely on the experience we have, the likes of Mickey Beagan, Ciaran Connolly, Jack and Rory and lads like that.
“We would feel we have improved from our league form, we've had three one-point victories this year and if you offered me a one-point victory now I would take the arm off you!”
Ballymacnab came agonisingly close to claiming the senior title that would have been just reward for their painstaking rise from the lower reaches of Armagh football to the pinnacle of the Orchard county game. Crossmaglen denied them in both finals but the survivors of those defeats can earn a chance at redemption if they can win tomorrow.
“The hunger is still there,” says O'Dowd who is in his first year as manager of the club.
“There are a few boys maybe thinking this could be their last hurrah and they'll be putting in the best effort that they can. They are a great bunch of lads and we have a nice spread of youth in there too and some very good players.
“We'll need all our big players to play well on Sunday to get a result but so will they.”
Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final: Crossmaglen Rangers v Silverbridge Harps (tomorrow, the Athletic Grounds, 6.30pm)
SILVERBRIDGE Harps have never won the Armagh senior championship, in fact the well-known south Armagh club has reached the final just once and that was in 1945 when a ‘Silverbridge Select' lost to the now defunct Armagh St Malachy's club.
Tomorrow Kevin Franklin's men get the chance to break new ground and take out the overwhelming favourites in one fell swoop when they meet Crossmaglen (holders of 45 titles) at the Athletic Grounds.
Of course that is much easier said than done but the Harps have made excellent progress so far in this campaign. Beating Division One champions Dromintee was their first win in the senior championship in 15 years. Ronan Reel and Tiernan Murphy got the goals in a 2-10 to 1-12 in a thriller that needed extra-time and the 'Bridge built on that in a see-saw battle against neighbours Cullyhanna in the quarter-final. Two goals from Ronan Rocks saw the underdogs to a 4-11 to 3-9 win.
Meanwhile, with defending champions Maghery knocked out at the quarter-final stage, Crossmaglen are now red-hot favourites to regain the Gerry Fegan Cup they lost last year. Stephen Kernan's side have come through challenges from Clann na Gael, Madden and, in the quarter-final, Killeavy to get to this stage and the Rangers were tested in all three games. They came out on top in the preliminary encounter by two points and have shown impressive reserves of stamina and bench strength to get over the line twice since then.
Backboned by inter-county quality, Cross retain the experience of Aaron and Tony Kernan alongside James Morgan and Paul Hughes. Up front Cian McConville (0-16) has been in excellent form but it is the Allstar nominated O'Neill brothers, Oisin and Rian, who are the match-winners. Alongside their ball-winning ability and physicality, Oisin has chipped in with seven points from play while his younger brother has totalled 3-12 in the three games so far.