'It’s a lot to live up to': Crossmaglen side can create own history says Cumiskey

Callum Cumiskey escapes the attentions of Granemore's Ryan Rafferty during last year's Armagh final. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Callum Cumiskey escapes the attentions of Granemore's Ryan Rafferty during last year's Armagh final. Picture by Seamus Loughran Callum Cumiskey escapes the attentions of Granemore's Ryan Rafferty during last year's Armagh final. Picture by Seamus Loughran

CALLUM Cumiskey has grown sick and tired of watching other clubs lift the Seamus Mac Ferran Cup in the eight years since Crossmaglen were last crowned kings of Ulster – but knows their immediate ambition can extend no further than the defence of their Armagh title.

The 29-year-old came into the senior set-up a decade ago, just as Cross were chasing a third All-Ireland club in-a-row. But, since losing out to St Brigid’s at the semi-final stage that year, the south Armagh club’s astonishing run of success has slowed, with 2015 bringing their only Ulster title since as the likes of Slaughtneil and Kilcoo emerged.

Indeed, last year’s Armagh triumph came off the back of defeats in the previous two county finals as Cross build towards a brighter future.

Alongside the likes of captain Jamie Clarke and stalwart Aaron Kernan, Cumiskey will be one of the more experienced voices in the Cross dressing room as their championship campaign gets under way in Saturday evening’s Group D clash with Clann na Gael at Davitt Park.

And while they yearn to be back competing with the big boys in Ulster and Ireland eventually, Cumiskey admits it is difficult to always be judged against the achievements of previous Cross sides.

“It’s a lot to live up to,” he said.

“A lot of us boys growing up, all we saw was success. It’s only whenever you’re in that set-up that you realise how much it takes to actually achieve that.

“Those teams were so good at doing the simple things well when the clutch moments came. The likes of Oisin [McConville], there’s nobody else you would want to have the ball when you needed a point.

“Boys around him noticed that and had the game smarts to get him on the ball. That comes from playing together for years. We have players like that on the team, there’s no doubt about it, the skill level we have is brilliant.

“It’s just getting those smaller things tied down, and maybe some of those younger boys realising they have the potential to push on and reach them highs.

“Like, we know we have the potential to be up there with them [the best teams in Ulster]. It’s very hard to be sitting at home on the sofa watching Ulster and All-Ireland finals, knowing you have the ability to be there yourself.

“But we never take our eye off the Armagh championship, because without it you can’t have any other ambitions. That’s our sole focus, and that’s the right way to approach it.”

And that is coming from new boss Anthony Cunningham and his management team, which includes Andy Callan, Jim McConville and Stephen Morgan.

One major talking point in the wake of Cross’s Ulster exit to Ballybay last year was the club’s commitment to the easy-on-the-eye kick-passing style that has served them so well down the decades.

That game proved to be a story of two black cards. When the Monaghan champions lost Drew Wylie early on, the shout went out immediately to get every man behind the ball and keep them there until his 10 minutes were up.

When Cross went down to 14 after Dara O’Callaghan was shown a black card just before half-time, Ballybay outscored their opponents 1-7 to just one point in the opening 15 minutes of the first half – opening up what would prove an insurmountable gap.

So do they stick or twist? Cumiskey suggests lessons have been learned, with other options implemented ahead of the start of their championship campaign.

“I think it has to change.

“The boys are bringing new values into their style of play this year, they used the league to do that – it was used to build a few performances with the style of football we’re going for this year.

“If you want to live with some of these top clubs operating at the minute, the likes of Kilcoo, Glen… Cross are very proud when it comes to the kicking style of football, we’ve been playing that way as long as I can remember, but it’s just the way the game’s evolving.

“You have to be able to adapt to the opposition you come up against, and find a balance between the two things. Looking at what we’ve done during the league, we’ve definitely got stronger in that aspect.

“We will be able to mix and match, depending on who we come up against.”