Crossmaglen Rangers take on final new boys Granemore in Armagh championship decider
Armagh Senior Football Championship final: Crossmaglen Rangers v St Mary’s Granemore (Sunday, the Athletic Grounds, 4.15pm)
YOU’LL trouser a handy tenner for a one pound stake if Granemore produce a shock in tomorrow’s Orchard county showpiece.
Granemore are in their first final, Crossmaglen are in their 63rd (and they’ve won 45 of those) so you have to admit the bookies’ logic makes sense but, that said, at those odds Granemore are worth a pound of your money.
Niall McAleenan’s side has already beaten Pearse Og, Mullaghabawn (the side that dethroned last year’s champions) and Killeavy but, more importantly, they are a seasoned Division One outfit and came within a whisker of making the 2019 final.
Strong, physical, experienced and hard to break down, if they keep the ball out of Crossmaglen hands and take the chances that come their way, Granemore will feel they can take this game right to the wire.
For that to happen, McAleenan will have to find a way to deal with the Crossmaglen attack and that’s easier said than done. Cutting out the supply means putting pressure on the kickers around midfield but, at the same time, he’ll need bodies inside his own 45 to clog up space when a Jamie Clarke or a Cian McConville does get on the ball.
With Rian O’Neill playing in a roving playmaking/defensive midfield role to leave room for them, Clarke and McConville were superb in the semi-final but they really began to make hay after Cross had built up a formidable lead and it came from a series of superb long-range points from the supporting cast.
So Granemore cannot afford to sit too deep but their defence has been mighty impressive thus far – no goals conceded in this championship and they’ve restricting their last two opponents to single-digit scores.
Central to that effort has been Darren Carr, perhaps the most underrated full-back in Armagh, and corner-back Ross Finn who brings county quality to a man-marking role that will probably see him pick up McConville today.
If Granemore set their stall out to soak up Cross pressure they could give a decent account of themselves but they can hardly expect to win. Cross are superb on the ball but they can’t score without it and so possession is key.
Even in the eye of a first half storm in the semi-final against Cross a fortnight ago, Maghery did well on their own kickouts but they coughed up the ball as men in black and amber swarmed around them.
Granemore cannot allow themselves to be pushed around and they will need to match that Cross intensity and hang on to the ball if they are to establish a foothold in the game. If so, they have an experienced and reliable free-taker in Jason O’Neill (0-10 in the last two games) who will take the chances that come his way and they can expect Marty Carr, Odhran Doyle and Karl McQuaid to chip in too.
Manager McAleenan’s experience is another factor in Granemore’s favour. Three years ago he guided Warrenpoint to their first Down championship final in 41 years against a Kilcoo side that had dominated the Mourne county scene. Like Granemore, Warrenpoint were rank underdogs but they pushed Kilcoo – who went on to win the Ulster title that year on their way to the All-Ireland final – all the way and lost out by a single point.
Granemore are hungry and have nothing to lose. McAleenan will have them well organised and they’ll need to be efficient with the ball and take every chance they create.
They are underdogs, yes, but expect them to make a fight of this.
If this was a Cross team that had a couple of recent titles behind them you could see them being caught out tomorrow but defeats in the last two finals hit the south Armagh outfit very hard and they have the bit between their teeth after hammering bogey team Maghery in the semi-final.
So, on reflection, maybe you should keep your money in your pocket: Cross get the nod to pull away after an engrossing battle.