Record Under Threat

November 23, 2015

With their perfect 10 out of 10 when it comes to Ulster finals played and won already tucked away Crossmaglen Rangers will be well aware that their unbelievable record is under serious threat next Sunday at the Athletic Grounds at 3pm.

Cross will face Monaghan champions Scotstown who have a distinguished pedigree when it comes to the Ulster Club as they have had their hands on the Seamus McFerran Cup 4 times following a 3-in-a-row 1978, 1979, 1980 and a last win in 1989. The Farney outfit have already disposed of beaten All-Ireland finalists Slaughtneil and Tyrone champions Trillick to set up their final showdown with Cross. One has to go back to 1991 to find the last Monaghan winner of the Cup, Castleblayney Faughs, and 3 years later since a Monaghan team last qualified for the final.

Such has been the recent dominance of the competition by Cross the media have been highlighting the fact that it is 3 years since Cross won a match in the Ulster club prior to their win over Antrim champions Cargin. I suppose when you have been crowned champions 6 times in a 7 year cycle 2006-12 defeats for 2 years in a row can be seen as slipping.

Following a shaky Armagh campaign Crossmaglen with more and more players returning after injuries are now back at near full strength and it reflected in their last three games in which they have shown tremendous improvement with every outing. Armagh Harps were blown away in a one sided County Final, Cargin gave them a searching examination in the Athletic Grounds and Down rivals Kilcoo were easily disposed of in the Marshes. All this was done by a team depicted in certain quarters “as the worst Rangers team ever”.

A closer examination tells a totally different story. The last Cross Ulster winning side was the team that defeated Kilcoo in the Athletic Grounds in 2012  by 3-9 to 1-9 which lined out like this P Hearty, P Hughes, P Kernan, P McKeown, A Kernan, J Morgan, M Aherne, J Hanratty, D McKenna, K Carragher, S Kernan, T Kernan, J Clarke, A Cunningham, O McConville. The team that beat Kilcoo at Pairc Esler in this year’s semi-final 0-12 to 0-8 was as follows P Hearty, P Hughes, A Rushe, P McKeown, A Kernan, M Aherne, J Morgan, J Hanratty, A Cunningham, M McNamee, S Kernan, T Kernan, O O’Neill, R Kelly, K Carragher.

As one can see Paul Kernan, David McKenna, Jamie Clarke and Oisin McConville are the players absent for the last match with Kilcoo. Clarke came on as a sub the last day and McKenna was ruled out through injury but both will be looking for starting berths against Scotstown. So in essence all Rangers have lost since their last Ulster title success are Paul Kernan and Oisin McConville. Observers should pay more attention to what they have added to the squad with Aidan Rushe, Rico Kelly, John Murtagh, Oisin O’Neill, Danny O’Callaghan, Garvan Carragher, Padraig Stuttard, Diarmiuid McConville, Callum Cumiskey, Kyle Brennan getting a lot of game time and experience since that last triumph.

Crossmaglen Rangers are now on tried and tested ground, they are back where they feel at home and have gotten there in their accustomed style displaying all the attributes which has made them the kingpins of club football.

Scotstown have a lot more to offer than Rory Beggan, Kieran and Darren Hughes, Conor McCarthy and Shane Carey who are their County players and may well be the better known players of the squad. But in winning their second county title inside 3 years Scotstown have displayed a more attacking style of play which looks very effective under the guidance of former Tyrone star Mattie McGleenan. The attacking style of play may leave them exposed at the back but the belief that they can score more than they concede is a very positive approach. Scotstown have scored 5-36 in their last 3 games with 7 different players contributing to the cause. Former minor star Conor McCarthy has adapted to senior life very well and has weighed in with 1-8. With 3-8 under his belt Darren Hughes exerts the greatest influence and threat so it will be interesting to see which of the Cross trio of man markers will be given the job of putting the shackles on Darren. Kieran Hughes could prove more troublesome operating at number 6 and his lunging runs will have to be curtailed. County goalkeeper Beggan will have to keep his defence on a tight rein against a lively Cross attack.

This Ulster final, if given ideal playing conditions, could be a real cracker, football wise, if both teams keep their open football ethos. The big factor in Rangers favour will no doubt be the occasion and how the underdogs Scotstown will handle it. With reigning All-Ireland champions Corofin not awaiting the Ulster winner, having relinquished their two titles to Castlebar Mitchels 2-10 to 0-11, the competition has been thrown wide open.

This contest will be a close run affair with the physical threat posed by Scotstown an area that Cross will have to deal with. As I have constantly said in the past it is the strength in depth of the Rangers squad that helps them get over stiff obstacles. Kilcoo were fancied by many to put Cross out but were found wanting. Scotstown full back line will be in for a much more searching examination than that posed by Trillick who managed 2 goals against them. Kilcoo had a lot healthier scoring average coming into the Cross game yet they were held scoreless for 27 minutes and none of their starting 6 forwards scored from play.

Rangers are cranking up the gears and with their unbelievable Ulster final record on the line they have the collective will, know how hunger and desire back to negotiate what will be their biggest test in 2015. Cross possess the big game players for the big day, simply because they have had so many big days in the past.