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BBC documentary: The untold story of Crossmaglen Rangers

March 21, 2016

A BBC documentary to be screened tonight (Monday) will expose a little known facet of Crossmaglen Rangers GFC, offering viewers an insight into remarkable behind-the-scenes access into the day-to-day lives of the senior footballers and management of one of the country’s most successful clubs.

For the people of Crossmaglen, Gaelic football is a passion, a way of life and a refuge.

During the Troubles, the town found itself at the heart of an area referred to by some, as ‘bandit country’.  Against this backdrop, a group of local children formed what was to become one of the greatest Gaelic football teams in the country – Crossmaglen Rangers.

Two of those boys, Oisín McConville and John McEntee, went on to help Cross’ win its first All-Ireland Club Championship in 1996.  Since then, the team has won 19 county championships, 11 Ulster club trophies and five more all-Ireland finals.

In 2014, Oisín and John became managers of Cross and began their pursuit of the 2016 All-Ireland Club Championship.

With unprecedented access to the club, True North: Crossmaglen Field of Dreams, follows Oisín and John as they guide the next generation of players to hoped-for victory at Dublin’s Croke Park.

The programme, narrated by BBC Sport NI reporter Thomas Niblock, also reveals that for the people of the area, Crossmaglen Rangers has been much more than a football club.

The 1970s saw an increased British Army presence across the north and the building of a base in the staunchly nationalist town was a cause of contention for many residents.

However, the club as a whole chose to ignore the Troubles as best it could and became determined to be known for sporting greatness.

Oisín and John recall how they were too busy playing football to get involved in politics.

Oisín said: “Despite what was going on, we were still determined to be successful on the field.”

“We were far too busy playing football and getting on with life,” John added.

Oisín’s mum Margaret has been making tea and buns before championship games for 20 years.

“Through bereavements and sad times, the GAA got people through and got them back out – it’s that important,” Margaret said.  “I don’t know what I would be doing if I hadn’t the GAA and the matches. I would have nothing to look forward to.  I might not be here at all.”

One of the most unexpected events in the programme is when Oisín tells how he was contacted by a former soldier, who was once stationed at Crossmaglen.

The former soldier, who is now involved in reconciliation work, meets Oisín on the club pitch and they discuss what that period in time was like for the team and for soldiers.

Crossmaglen: Field of Dreams takes us into the day-to-day lives of the players and managers, including the squad’s oldest member, Paul Hearty. Married with four children, Paul works as a milkman six days a week before football training in the evenings.

We also meet Jamie Clarke, a rising star in Gaelic football, who wants to see if there is more to life for him than GAA. He causes shockwaves by leaving the club mid-season to go to New York.

And we see co-manager Oisín, one of the most successful Gaelic football players of all time and Crossmaglen’s most famous son, using the wisdom he has gained as a recovering gambling addict to impart motivational strategies to his players.

The programme also takes us behind the scenes with co-manager John and former captain Johnny Hanratty.

Producer Natalie Maynes said: “For years, Crossmaglen has lived with the reputation of being at the heart of ‘bandit country’.  But with unique access to the village’s senior Gaelic football team over a two-year-period, we were able to gain an insight into the untold story of life beyond the label, and to discover how this remarkable frontier community has turned what could have been a siege mentality, into a formula for victory.”

Assistant producer Thomas Niblock added: “From a sporting point of view, the reward for gaining two years of unrestricted access was a front row seat to the real Crossmaglen Rangers.  No buff, no polish – instead we witnessed Cross during their most intimate and sacred moments. We were also able to document the humanity and exacting toll on a club in pursuit of sporting excellence.”

True North: Crossmaglen Field of Dreams is the story of a remarkable group of people at the heart of a remarkable town.

BBC One NI Monday 21 March 9pm.

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