Top

Simplyfruit Senior Football League and Championship

October 13, 2014

Cross will pluck Harps Strings

The two most successful clubs in the history of the Armagh Senior Championship, Crossmaglen Rangers (41 titles) and Armagh Harps (20 titles, known as Young Irelands 1917 to 1934) will contest the historic 2014 County Final which had a  “ back door “ system introduced for the first time. Truth is that the initial introduction of a second chance proved to be a disaster with repeat matches and a general apathy reducing the competition to farcical proportions that commanded national media headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Defending champions Crossmaglen Rangers breezed through their four games with Sarsfields 3-16 to 1-11, Carrickcruppen 3-24 to 0-5, Dromintee 1-7 to 0-0 and St Pat’s, Cullyhanna 0-18 to 0-12. Armagh Harps reached their first final since 2009 with wins over city rivals Pearse Og 1-11 to 0-10, Granemore 1-14 to 0-8, Shane O’Neill’s 4-16 to 0-1 and Maghery 2-12 to 1-9. Sunday’s finalists both came flying straight through the front door unbeaten and head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the clubs in the competition.

As already mentioned, Harps contested the 2009 final which they lost by double scores 0-8 to 0-4 to fellow city rivals Pearse Og who had denied Crossmaglen Rangers a national record 13 in a row-County titles. Harps lost the 1995 final to Mullaghbawn 0-10 to 1-5 and one has to go back to 1991 for their last success, a 0-11 to 1-7 win over Maghery in a final. Indeed it’s 39 years since Sunday’s teams have contested a final that needed a replay win 0-9 to 0-4 to give the title to Cross.

CHANGED OUTFITS

The Rangers team that beat St Pat’s to reach the final showed 5 changes from the one that played the same opponents in the final 12 months ago. Garvan Carragher and Danny O’Callaghan were missing out of defence with Aaron Cunningham, Stephen Kernan and Kyle Brennan out of the attack. Their replacements were Stephen Finnegan, James Morgan, Rico Kelly, Jamie Clarke and John Murtagh.

Naturally the span since their last final appearance has reflected on this young Harps outfit which only boasts four survivors from that losing team, Kevin Morris, Mark McConville, Charlie Vernon and Ultan Lennon. It’s the new kids on the block, Paddy Morrison, Conal Lennon, Conal McKee, Joe McElroy, Rory McGrath, Declan McKenna, Simon McCoy, Karol Loughran, Ryan McShane, Conor Coulter and Paddy McCoy react to their first championship final which will ultimately determine Harps fate.

Indeed it will be vital to the Harps cause that centre-back McElroy who went off injured the last day has recovered and the vastly experienced Gareth Swift has recovered from the injury that ruled him out of the semi-final. A fit Swift on the edge of the square, an area that has been causing the champions plenty of worry, would be a great fillip for the Armagh city side.

POWERFUL MIDFIELD

Harps rise to be leading title challengers has been based upon a very powerful midfield pairing of Charlie Vernon and Declan McKenna. It was when both of these players picked up the tempo and workrate in the second halves against Pearse Og and Maghery that Harps asserted themselves and got into a telling rhythm all over the field. The Harps duo blew away James Lavery and Ronan Lappin. Rangers midfield of skipper Johnny Hanratty and Rico Kelly hardly raided a gallop last day out against St Pat’s where it needed the introduction of David McKenna into this sector just before half-time to help Cross get to grips in this vital part of the field. Considering McKenna’s impact and contribution to the game it is hard to see him not starting in the final.

Cross preparations for the semi-final were far from ideal with their “infamous match” with old rivals Dromintee in the quarter-final, and their lack of competitive action was reflected in a very sluggish performance against the Pat’s. In fairness to the Armagh kingpins these type of performances have been par for the course “down the years” and as the bigger prizes arrive on the horizon the ante is stepped up big time. Harps have mixed the good with the bad also turning in a few very iffy first half performances that, if repeated on Sunday, the champions will leave them with no avenue for a comeback by forging into an unassailable lead.

CONTRAST IN STYLES

There is a marked contrast in styles between the two teams with Harps preferring a fast running game through the middle whilst Cross adopt the long, quick delivery into a nippy but physically small in stature forward line. What Cross forwards might lack in height is more than compensated by speed and ability and the telling ability of notching scores. The hall mark of Crossmaglen Rangers successes has been their history of producing numerous players to get the scores on the board when needed. When the chips were down the last day Martin Aherne weighed in with 4 points from play as one of 8 different Cross scorers in the match. Opponents Harps produced 4 scorers in total against Maghery and only managed 3 points from play over the hour. A plus for the City side is that they have only conceded one goal in the championship to date and have allowed their 4 championship opponents score just 1-28 exactly the same as Cross.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

Armagh Harps 1-11 Pearse Og 0-10

Armagh Harps 1-14 Granemore 0-8

Armagh Harps 4-16 Shane O’Neill’s 0-1

Armagh Harps 2-12 Maghery Seán MacDiarmada  1-9

FOR 8-53 AGN 1-28

Crossmaglen Rangers 3-16 Sarsfields1-11

Crossmaglen Rangers 3-24   Carrickcruppen 0-5

Crossmaglen Rangers 1-7 Dromintee 0-0

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-18 St Patrick’s 0-12

FOR 7-65 AGN 1-28

The added bonus for Cross going into the final is that they can call on the services of acteattacker Jamie Clarke.  Jamie’s inclusion in the side for a concerted championship campaign adds plenty to an already potent scoring threat.  Operating at centre forward in the semi-final was a constant threat both as a scorer and play maker.  John Murtagh marked his return to the Rangers jersey with a flurry of goals although like most of his colleagues he did not have a good outing against St Pat’s.

Experience v In-experience

On Sunday you have one of the most experienced teams in the country in terms of contesting major finals, up against a very youthful Harps side that has an awful lot of first time senior players in their ranks.

Like the bookies have it priced it is impossible to see any other outcome other than another title for Cross.  But a reminder of what can happen if the belief and attitude is right is Donegal v Dublin.  The only difference for me in making that comparison is that Cross have never indulged in getting caught up in their own hype.  They give all opponents due respect and attention and in the end they nearly always get the job done.

Rangers employ a simple philosophy, this is the way we play if you are good enough to come and beat us do so, while the philosophy may be simple and effective it is the players viving for places that has kept Cross at the top of the pile down the years.

The supply line from the substitutes bench has been always been a Rangers ‘forte’.  You think that you have got the measure of them and suddenly there is a substitution or two and the game changes direction.  With a half dozen changes from the side that contested last years final the Cross bench is still very very strong.

Driven by the vastly experience Paul Hearty and with Aaron Kernan dictating the play Rangers all round ability will be enough to overcome plucky Harps outfit.

From a footballing point of view everyone hopes that we will be treated to a good contest with Harps putting it up to the Champions in a platform for the sign of things to come. Harps are to be credited for showing the resolve and interest in trying to overcome the Cross champions domination.

Rangers were young, innocent and naive when they set out on their journey in 1996.  Harps will find their first step in this direction a negative one as the champions hold all the aces to set up an Ulster Club quarter final with Omagh on November 2nd.

Bottom