Armagh Senior Football Championship

September 9, 2013

• Crossmaglen Rangers v Pearse Og

The Armagh City side has annually been pinned as the main threat to the champion’s ambitions and never more so than this year given the player plight of the title holders. In his second stint in charge “Big Joe” would never have envisaged going into Championship action without four of the mainstays of his squad absent. Oisin has retired; Jamie Clarke and David McKenna are stateside while James Morgan is out injured. That quartet all started against the Og’s in the last Co Final with the city side also sporting numerous changes since that Championship encounter. Indeed only 8 Ciaran McKinney, Gerard Barton, Darnell Parkinson, Chris Rafferty, Conor Clarke, Paul Duffy, Marc Cullen and Sean Clarke from that beaten final team started in their 1-19 to 1-9 demolition of Dromintee in the last round.

Joe has also to contend with son Paul’s absence from the full back position, an area of concern with Morgan missing also. But that will not phase Joe as he has plenty of ammunition to bolster his team with eldest son Stephen, Stephen Finnegan, Callum Cumiskey, Mel Boyce and Garvan Carragher all used as subs in their last Championship win over the Og’s. Throw in the mix the emerging Conor O’Neill and Kevin McShane coupled with the vast experience of Paul Hearty;  Paul Hughes, Paul McKeown; Aaron Kernan, Brendan McKeown, Martin Ahern, Johnny Hanratty, Kyle Carragher, Tony Kernan (1-1), Aaron Cunningham, Kyle Brennan, Cross still look serious opposition for any club side.

The red card for leading marksman Conor Clarke against Dromintee will be a major blow to the challengers leaving the scoring onus on Marc Cullen (1-7 v Dromintee), Paul Duffy, Sean and Ros Clarke. Midfielders Chris Rafferty and Sean Moore will be up against a new partner for Rangers Johnny Hanratty with the absence of last year’s skipper and this sector could prove pivotal for either sides chances.

But it is at the business end of things the performances of the respective full back lines that will decide this contest. Paul Hughes has emerged as a rising star at corner back with Paul McKeown expected to fill the number 3 jersey, the other corner could be manned by Stephen Finnegan, who fit and focused, is as good as what‘s in the County. In front of them curbing the influence of Aaron Kernan will be of utmost importance for the Og’s as his match winning contributions and influence on the game is immense. Kyle Carragher is in tremendous form and is available to play despite his dismissal against St Brigid’s (different competition). Stephen and Tony Kernan are proven matchwinners with an injury free Aaron Cunningham the ace in the hold for the champions now ready to deliver on a more consistent basis. Og’s new full back line with the experienced Gerard Barton flanked by Sean Gribben and Lee McGinley will face a stiff examination from Kernan, Carragher and Cumiskey.

The verdict is that the champions may be missing a few marquee players but their fabulous record is built on a hard work ethic and playing as a team. Cross has still enough quality and leaders in the team to step up to the plate when the chips are down. Rangers carry more forward power and despite all the players missing have better bench options than the opposition. With the whole country watching and waiting the message from the Athletic Grounds will be that we have not gone away.

• St. Patrick’s v Sarsfields

St Pat’s will be the first ones to hold up their hands and say that they are lucky to still be in the Championship following their 2-7 t0 1-8 victory over Whitecross. In the Championship the only thing that counts is the result, regardless as to how the game went, your name in the hat for the next round is all that matters and now pitted against Sarsfields the Cullyhanna boys will be eying a place in the last four.

With the writing on the wall, no score for over a half hour, trailing 1-8 to 1-5 the big players Ciaran McKeever and Robbie Tasker stood up to the plate to get Pat’s over the line. Niall McShane ended the scoring drought, Tasker pointed a free then set up Aidan Nugent for his second goal of the game before impressive half-back Colm Hoey doubled his tally with the final point for a dramatic 2-7 to 1-8 win.

Sarsfields got a bye in the first round but finished off a very good League campaign with 8 wins and 2 draws from their 15 games in the Senior League. The Highmoss side have evolved into a good side since prevailing with a youthful policy a few years back. Their full forward line of Johnny Reynolds, Paul McGeown and Thomas McAlinden prove a handful for any teams’ defence. Midfielders Brian Lavery and Eamon McGeown are a formidable duo capable of matching the best and their battle with McKeever and McConville will be very interesting. Mark Reynolds, Peter Stevenson and Paul Magee are key defenders.

Pat’s will have free taker Eugene Casey back in action to boost their chances.  Sarsfields will have generated their own confidence following their 1-11 to 1-9 League victory at Cullyhanna at the end of June. Having already used their get out of jail card a more focused St Pat’s driven by the very talented Tasker to secure their place in the semis in what could be a bright, open, high scoring encounter.

• Ballymacnab v Granemore

Granemore caused the upset of the last round with a 1-13 to 1-6 victory over a fancied Armagh Harps outfit, with midfielders Kieran Toner and Brendan Boylan providing the platform for victory. Barry Toner top scored with unerring accuracy as he converted 7 frees and Caolan Rafferty rattled home a 22 minute goal which helped his team to a 10 point interval lead 1-9 to 0-2. Worrying for the winners will be their paltry 4 point second half return as the challengers reduced the deficit to 4 points before Granemore regained control culminating in a penalty save by keeper Kevin Kelly.

Ballymacnab saw a 9-4 half-time lead turned into 1-11 to 0-11 deficit with less than 10 minutes left on the clock in the last round against Culloville but a storming finish inspired by a Joe Gribben goal saw the ‘Nab win through 1-17 to 1-11. Team Captain Brian McCone (0-7) was one of 5 forwards to score against Culloville with ironically Rory Grugan the odd man out. With substitutes Pauric Gribben and Brendan Toner able to add scores from the bench it is defensively that the question marks hang over Ballymacnab.

‘Nab midfielders Gary and Tony McKee will have to get some change out of their exchanges with Toner and Boylan to curb the Rafferty’s Ryan, Shane, Caolan, Declan Doyle and Chrissy O’Connor getting a run on their defence. The moving of Michael Began to the number 6 jersey has seen him blossom all year as a central defender with his other central partner Ruari Gribben solid as number 3

With both teams possessing good forwards this neighbourly encounter could provide us with the best contest of all four quarter finals. The key exchange for me is who will come out tops in the Tony McClelland, Brendan Doyle, Michael McKenna half-back line tilt with the lively ‘Nab trio of Damian McGeown, Rory Grugan, Ryan Kennedy.

The strong physical stature of Granemore gives them a telling advantage which will be good enough to see them through to the last four in a very tight encounter with a draw worthy of a wee wager.

• Carrickcruppen v Maghery

Aidan, Stefan and Paul Forker the Maghery full forward line scored 1-7 of their 1-8 in overcoming Killeavy 1-8 to 0-9 in the last round. Center forward David Lavery got the winners other score as they led 1-3 to 0-5 at the short whistle. Conor Mackle, Stefan Cusack and Darragh McConville form a formidable Maghery half-back line who join the attack at will. Maghery are annually regarded as Championship contenders but fail to produce with in discipline their costly ally.

Carrickcruppen, given the talent at their disposal, are probably the biggest underachievers in the Senior ranks due to their very erratic form. On their day as proven in their last Championship outing a 1-16 to 3-7 semi-final loss to the champions ‘Cruppen are capable of anything. At full strength and up to the task the Lowes Lane outfit are very strong down the middle from goalkeeper John McCullough, Barry Loughran, John Magill, Stephen Harold, BJ Padden, Paul Keenan, Declan Carville and Decky Monaghan not withstanding team captain halfback David Kelly, Conor Sloan and Seamus Kane.

This could be the fieriest of the four contests given the proven suspect temperaments of several of the participants. In the end it could boil down to the side that keeps the cooler head in the heat of battle. With their high profile League campaign in comparison to ‘Cruppen’s (although their League meeting saw the visitors record a one point 3-6 to 1-11 win over Maghery) the Loughshore men will be hotly fancied to reach the last four. I will go against the form book and plump for a ‘Cruppen victory if they can garner any self-belief from their last Cßhampionship performance which showed that they are not that far off the mark.

Armagh Simplyfruit Football Leagues

Junior Championship

Forkhill 2-10 St. Patrick’s 0-7

Favourites Forkhill put in a nervous, wasteful, scoreless opening quarter but once central defender Padraig Toner cancelled out a Shane McKeever ninth minute pointed free the green and gold never looked back. Top scorer with 1-5 Jamar Hall opened his account with a free followed by another from the very influential Barry Shannon and then Jemar made it 4-1 on twenty minutes. Respective full forwards Kyle McEvoy and Ciaran Smith traded points before Shannon extended the lead to 6-2 following some very good interplay from Forkhill. A foul on Shannon enabled Hall notch his third point of the half but battling St Pat’s went in trailing by 4 at the short whistle as McEvoy had the last point of the half from a free.

Playing up the hill in the second half Forkhill produced a goal that will take bettering at any grade for the rest of the entire Armagh Championships. Following a Pat’s wide Forkhill moved the ball out from solid goalkeeper Sean McDonnell right to the other end of the field 14 passes in total with the goalscorer midfielder and team Captain Stephen Sheridan involved three times before he fisted the ball into an empty net following a marvellous passage of play. A Hall free and a second from play by Smith left it 1-9 to 0-3 some six minutes after the restart. Instead of folding St Pat’s dug deep and took control for the next 15 minutes in which they produced 4 points through Aodhan Conlon, Paudi Mackin, McEvoy and a second for Conlon. Although on top Pat’s could find no way through the last line of defence in which Brendan Murchan, Patrick Burns and Cathal Adams stayed rock solid. With 8 minutes left it was Jemar who reacted quickest to the through ball beating keeper Gary Keenan to the loose ball to raise their second green flag and their first score for 16 minutes. A Jemar free brought scoring to an end with Forkhill into the last four 2-10 to 0-7.

Annagmore 3-12 Ballyhegan 0-8

When Conor McCann set up Oisin MacIomhair for a seventh minute goal Annaghmore were on their way to the last four in the championship. The goalscorer added two points from play with Conor McCann (2), Ciaran MacIomhair (2) and Michael McNiece taking their half -time total to 1-8 as opposed to 0-4 for Ballyhegan. Midway through the second half Conor McCann was at hand to flick home a Ciaran MacIomhair pass to wrap up the game. Shane McGeown and Michael McConville scored points for the winners with McCann putting the icing on the cake with his second goal on the stroke of full time. Following their 0-7 apiece draw with Lissummon, Annaghmore  scored 3-12 in the replay and have notched the same score to beat Ballyhegan. The draw for the semi-finals will take place after the Dorsey Emmet’s v Killeavy Secconds game on Monday night.

Clonmore 0-12 Belleek 1-5

Clonmore were in control of the opening half of this match going in at the break 8-1 in front. Cormac Carmichael (0-4), Cathal Cunningham (0-2) Paul Hamill and Brendan Donaghy were on the mark for the winners with Cashel Toner getting the sole Belleek point. Toner and Seamus Finnegan added to the Belleek tally with Carmichael keeping the leaders ticking over. The score of the game came from the boot of 16 year old Fergus Quinn as he reduced the deficit to 9-4 but James Fox extended the lead almost immediately. Toner pointed for Belleek before Martin Brown threw them a lifeline rising highest at the back post to fist a goal. But the goal only galvanised Clonmore as Carmichael took his tally to a magnificent 7 by adding the last 2 points to the scoreboard. Clonmore are in the last four following two less than convincing performances against Collegeland and Belleek.