CROSSMAGLEN’S five and 10-points wins disguise the brilliant late rallies they’ve needed in both of their Armagh Championship outings thus far.
The Rangers, who face Maghery on Friday night in the first of this weekend’s semi-finals, were severely under the cosh in the first round against Silverbridge but produced a grandstand finish to win clearly and then, in their quarter-final against Dromintee, they were taken to extra-time but ran riot in the additional 20 minutes and cantered home by double-figures.
“We wouldn’t be overly happy with our performances in both games so far,” says experienced defender Paul Hughes.
“We did play well in patches but we weren’t ruthless enough in front of the goals. We’ve been making things hard for ourselves and in the Silverbridge game it wasn’t looking great after they got the second goal midway through the second half but we showed good fight to come back and get the result.
“Against Dromintee, although we had our backs against the wall at the end and we were a man down, I always felt we were in control of the game. We were a bit slack at the end and they forced extra-time but we were able to kick on and get over the line.”
The topsy-turvy nature of their performances so far does suggest levels of inconsistency in Stephen Kernan’s side. The Rangers have yet to hit top gear but they work hard and certainly can’t be faulted for their fitness levels or spirit.
“The fitness has showed, especially against Dromintee,” says Hughes.
“Even against the ’Bridge, in the last 15 minutes it really shone through and that is testament to the work we did in pre-season but Cross teams are always going to have that fight.
“You’re never going to find a Cross team that gives up and doesn’t fight right to the end so what we’re doing is nothing new, you grow up with that sort of mentality. Any time our backs are against the wall we are going to come out swinging – it mightn’t always happen for us but we’ll not go down without a fight.”
Friday night foes Maghery and Crossmaglen are of course familiar foes. The Covid pandemic meant that only 400 supporters were allowed into the Athletic Grounds for the Armagh final in 2020 and Maghery, driven on by Aidan Forker’s 1-3, hit four goals (two in a three-minute second half spell) to hand Cross their first defeat in a county decider since 1982.
“We’re not strangers,” said Hughes who made his senior debut in black and amber back in 2010.
“We know the way they want to play and they know all about us and it’ll all be about who can impose their gameplan the best. We know they’re going to be physical, we know they’re going to be well-organised and hard to break down and they’ll be looking to hit us on the counter and maybe put high balls into the square.
“We know they’re going to try and do that and they know that we’ll try and play with a bit of pace and get the ball in long so it’s really about who performs best on the day. We’re expecting that it’s going to be the toughest test that we’ve had to date and that’s what we’re preparing for.
“We haven’t fully clicked yet but even if we had we’d still be in the same position we are now, we’d still be in a semi-final, so all that matters is that we score one more than them and get over the line. “Obviously you want to perform, you want a performance but the most important thing is getting one step closer to getting the trophy back.”