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Double header at the Atletic Grounds

October 15, 2018

Armagh GAA Cormac Leonard Commercials Championship

The Athletic Grounds Armagh, looks set to play host to a huge crowd on Sunday next as both the Cormac Leonard Commercials sponsored Armagh Senior and Intermediate Football Finals will be played. The opening game is the IFC Final @1.45pm featuring Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s v St. Peter’s, Lurgan with referee Philip Conway in charge. The SFC Final is at 4.00pm when Ballymacnab Round Towers take on Crossmaglen Rangers with Ollie Hearty as referee.

Crossmaglen Rangers return to the stage they virtually owned for 20 years after a 3 year absence whilst opponents Ballymacnb will be playing in only their second ever Senior final 7 years after their first appearance. In the Intermediate final St Peter’s will be hoping to atone for their 2012 loss to Killeavy but it is 37 years since the Atty Hearty Cup was in Peter’s hands. Following 5 lost finals Mullaghbawn finally got their hand on the Intermediate Trophy for the first time in 1992 and will be hoping to end that 26 year drought come Sunday. 

 ●Intermediate Championship

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s v St. Peter’s, Lurgan

Both of the Intermediate finalists have always been well regarded in Armagh football circles, mainly at the higher Senior level over the years but it is exactly 50 years since they both faced each other in an Intermediate Final. St. Peter’s were comfortable winners on that occasion and will enter Sunday’s final as strong favourites.

The one thing that both Mullaghbawn and St Peter’s have in common, despite their pedigree, is that their championship records in terms of titles won, fall well short of the expected level given the quality of players and teams that they had down the years.

The Lurgan side have made a return to Senior Football next year as they were crowned Intermediate A League champions which is a monkey off their backs as they now look forward to winning the “elusive League an Championship Double”. Mullaghbawn had and indifferent League campaign with injuries playing a big part and lost both their games against the Peter’s.

Ironically Sunday’s finalists were drawn in the same Championship group with Peter’s claiming their third win over their rivals. Indeed Mullaghbawn progressed to the last 16 Championship qualifier by virtue of their one win over Tullysarran. But since then their Championship form has been very impressive as they defied the odds to oust Culloville and near neighbours Forkhill with relative ease before comfortably accounting for Wolfe Tones in the semi-final.

Peter’s lost to Clonmore in the Group which saw them knocked off top spot and lose out on an automatic place in the quarter-finals. Éire Óg were defeated in the qualifiers and Middletown were dismissed in the quarter final. A late semi-final rally earned them a place in the final following an added time winning point to beat Shane O’Neill’s.

LEAGUE FORM NO INDICATOR

St. Peter’s would be very foolish to think that their two League wins and one Championship win over Mullaghbawn already this year will carry anything other that statistical importance when it comes to Sunday’s showdown.

Mullaghbawn’s last starting 15 against Peter’s neighbours Wolfe Tone bore no resemblance to the teams which started in their 3 previous games. Mullaghbawn manager Martin McKinley has his team moving in the right direction just at the right time. Martin has successfully integrated his successful minor side of 2 years ago with his seasoned campaigners Shane McParland, Niall Ward, Barry McKinley along with the long serving Kieran’s Grant and McKinley. With a rejuvenated Eddie English in top scoring form the likes of Eoghan McDonnell, Shea Loye, Ruairi and Gerard McCann have left Mullaghbawn with a very potent sextet of attackers that will keep any defence on it’s toes.

The addition of former Colleges and Corrinshego star Declan Loye to the Mullaghbawn side has been a huge boost as the Armagh u-20 player has helped knit together a tight defensive unit that tackle with aggression and discipline. Loye’s presence in defence has brought a confidence in which Ferghal Mackin, Patrick Tiernan, Ward and McKinley have blossomed. Goalkeeper Brendan Murphy has got better with every outing especially with his ball distribution from kick-outs, an excellent save when it really mattered against the Tones only added to his growing reputation.

But perhaps the biggest underestimation of Mullaghbawn occurs when it comes to midfield. Regular starters Cormac Smyth and Gerard Doherty both put in a shift with Smyth having the ability to prevent scores at one end with his catching ability and also get on the scoresheet at the other end when the opportunities present themselves. The duo, along with Niall Strain and Luke Owens coming off the bench to help out in this area of the field have more than held their own to date against some top opponents.

St Peter’s has been the name on everyone’s lips as likely Intermediate Championship winners from the start of the year and now as League Champions assured of Senior Football for next year they are but an hour away from fulfilling those expectations. 10 minutes into the second half against Shane O’Neill’s in the semi-final Peter’s trailed by 6 points but they showed tremendous fighting qualities and a never say die attitude as they outscored the Camlough boys 8-1 to secure a 0-11 to 1-7 victory.

It was substitute Darren Moore with his second and match-winning point that set the “Buckfast Flowing” but it has been Peter’s ability to get a number of different players on the scoresheet which has been their forte all year. Seven Different scorers against Shanes 8 against Middletown and Éire Óg shows a team brimming with confidence.

With midfielders Aaron Findon and Caolan O’Neill getting their hands on plenty of ball it is not hard to see where the bulk of their scores are created from as forwards Ciaran McCavigan, Niall Creaney, Ruairi McDonald, Shea Geraghty, Niall McConville and Fearghal Moore all enjoy a plentiful supply of the ball. Outside of the Championship Group defeat to Clonmore Peter’s like Mullaghbawn have been sound defensively only conceding 7-8-9 and 10 scores twice in their 5 other Championship matches. In front of goalkeeper Michael McCavigan, his full back line of Conor Clarke, Glen Flanagan and Alex McCabe have been exceptionally solid as their half backs Emmett Haughian and Eoghan McCormick bomb forward at every opportunity to help out offensively as Robbie Geary holds the fort.

CLASSIC IN PROSPECT

Hopefully the weather will play it’s part by being good because this Intermediate final has all the ingredients of being a classic. Two very attack minded teams as one would expect given the quality of forwards they both have. In terms of physicality Peter’s are a very big team and it will be interesting to see how they will deal with the relatively small but very speedy Mullaghbawn attack. There are many talking points ahead of this match such as who will pick up Mullaghbawn dangerman Eddie English? Will Declan Loye go head to head with Niall McConville? But it could all come down to who wins the midfield sector because no matter how good your forwards are they cannot function without a supply of ball.

Picking a winner is not easy but for me the team ticking all the boxes in terms of momentum and belief are Mullaghbawn. They may be the more inexperienced of the two teams but they are hitting form at the right time. Mullaghbawn’s young players have had county experience but more than that have had big day’s out for both club and county and are proven winners already with Minor & Intermediate League titles and an u-21 Championship under their belts.

Mullaghbawn to make a welcome return to Senior Football by winning an exciting entertaining Intermediate Final.

How they got there

*Division One League champions for the very first time in 2018 Ballymacnab recorded two League wins over Cross. There was only a point between the teams in both matches as the ‘Nab won in Cross for the first time 0-18 to 2-11 and won the return on home soil 0-15 to 1-11

MULLAGHBAWN CÚCHULLAINS

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 1-10 Clonmore 2-14

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 1-16 Tullysarran 0-10

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 1-08 St Peter’s 1-18

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 1-18 Culloville 0-07

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 1-11 Forkhill 0-07

Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s 0-18 Wolfe Tone 0-10

P 6 W4 For 5-81 Agn. 3- 66 Mullaghbawn averaged 14 scores per game, conceding on average 11 scores per game

DID YOU KNOW?

*This will be Mullaghbawn Cúchullain’s seventh Intermediate final which has resulted in one win 1992 v Middletown after suffering final defeats in 1968 to Sunday’s opponents St Peter’s, 1970 to Madden, 1979 &1988 to St Patrick’s Cullyhanna and in 1989 to Dromintee.

*Mullaghbawn won an Ulster Senior Club title 1995 having won their second Armagh Championship that year to go with their 1964 success.

*Armagh Junior titles were won by Mullaghbawn in 1942, 1960, 1986

ST PETER’S, LURGAN

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 1-16 Tullysarran 0-10

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 1-18 Mullaghbawn 1-08

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 1-12 Clonmore 2-13

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 2-17 Éire Óg 1-06

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 2-12 Middletown 1-09

St. Peter’s, Lurgan 0-11 Shane O’Neill’s 1-07

P 6 W5 For 7-86 Agn. 6- 53 St Peter’s averaged 15 scores per game, conceding on average 10 scores per game.

DID YOU KNOW?

*St Peter’s have won 2 Intermediate titles 1981 v Keady and 1968 against Sunday’s opponents

Their only other final was in 2012 which they lost to Killeavy.

*Peter’s have won 2 Senior Championships, a St Peter’s Selection in 1944 and St Peter’s in 1951.

*The Lurgan side have won 2 Armagh Junior titles in 1947 and 1967.

*Peter’s have won all 3 games v Mullaghbawn this year, away in the League 2-10 to 0-13 and at home 5-15 to 0-09 followed by a 1-18 to 1-08 Championship Group victory.

 Armagh SFC 

Ballymacnab Round Towers v Crossmaglen Rangers

The Senior final brings together the most experienced and most decorated club in the county Crossmaglen Rangers up against the most improved team in the county Ballymacnab Round Towers. Cross are back in the final following a 2 year blip whilst the ‘Nab are appearing in just their second final with their debut final 7 years ago turning into a nightmare as they took a 2-22 to 0-3 hiding from Cross on that occasion.

Sunday’s match up should produce a much better and tighter contest but the enormity of the task facing according to the bookies “rank outsiders “ Ballymacnab can be gauged by the fact that Cross have won the last 21 Armagh Senior finals in which they played, since their last final defeat 36 years ago. But there has been an air of confidence and belief in the ‘Nab camp all year as they won their first ever Division One League Title securing two wins over Cross in doing so and sailed through the championship recording 5 straight wins.

Can the underdogs take the biggest South Armagh scalp of all after recording 3 wins on the trot over Whitecross, Dromintee and Killeavy following an opening round win over Sarsfields and then passing their biggest test to date Maghery to secure their place in the final. Fellow finalists Cross had fallen out of contention in a lot of peoples minds at the start of the year as potential 2018 champions. Rangers League form was patchy and when they opened their Championship campaign with a brace of one point victories over Silverbridge and Madden their prospects of winning the title had diminished even further.

All changed when a youthful Clann Eireann came to Crossmaglen in the last championship Group match. Rangers produced their best showing of the year as they sent them packing and out of the Championship with a whopping 4-15 to 0-7 victory. The “old hands and young guns” after an injury hit season were beginning to string it together and the word was on the street that “Cross are back” could be heard loud and clear as they demolished a fancied Armagh Harps 2-22 to 1-15 in the Championship quarter-final. It was the team from Lower Creggan that carried the early season whispers that talked up their chances of winning a first ever Senior Championship. Beaten on scoring difference to the League title by the ‘Nab St Pat’s Cullyhanna had comfortably navigated their way to a semi-final meeting with the Upper Creggan rivals Cross whom they had defeated at the same stage of the championship two years previously.

There was to be no repeat for the Pat’s as Rangers comfortably disposed of their challenge as they rolled back the clock with a vintage performance akin to any produced when they were dominating Armagh football and beyond. 

Rangers return to centre stage

It has taken Cross two years to transition and blend the experienced and youthful talent at their disposal. This years new management team have brought a fresh approach and the hunger back in the squad as can be seen from their recent performances. Players who have worn the jersey with pride and passion for well over a decade had been put out to pasture in many people’s eyes including some home support are back playing as good as ever showing that they still have a lot to offer to their team.

Ominously Rangers are getting stronger in playing personnel as James Morgan, Aidan Rushe and David McKenna all came off the bench in the semi-final with Cross still without Paul McKeown and Tony Kernan. Team Captain Aaron Kernan has led by example exerting more and more influence in games as Aaron and his fellow long servers in the team Johnny Hanratty, Mickey McNamee and Kyle Carragher revel in the pressure being taken off them by their ever maturing team mates who are stepping up to the mark in the bigger games.

Goalkeeper Jamie McEvoy a proved shot stopper is also very comfortable with possession and distribution of the ball in open play and from kick-outs. The full back line of Rico Kelly, Alan Farrelly and Aaron Smylie have only conceded 4 goals to date in the championship. Half backs Aaron Kernan and Paul Hughes have both excelled at both ends of the field popping over some great points when they go on the attack as Garvan Carragher at No 6 minds house.

Midfielder Stephen Morris does a trojan amount of work that often goes unnoticed to observers but not his teamates as he always puts in a shift as does Johnny McKeever and Padraig Stuttard with both adding scores to their work ethic. Against St Pat’s Cross had 9 different players on the scoresheet. The big plus for Cross is the form of the O’Neill brothers Oisin and Rian as their footballing stock is on the rise as they get better and stronger year on year. Rian’s sideline point and his against the wind converted “45” were worth the admission price alone. Proved match winning performances and a “big game temperament” is another huge asset which the brothers possess even at this early stages of their footballing careers.

The key word for Ballymacnab ahead of Sunday is belief- belief in their own ability and style of play, which has already made this year (regardless of Sunday’s result) a huge step forward for the club. Former Monaghan star Bernie Murray has made some telling changes especially in defence and style of play which his Ballymacnab charges have taken to like a duck to water. In the past the ‘Nab have been prone to the concession of goals but have only let in 3 thus far in the Championship 2 to Dromintee and one to Sarsfields. More pleasing for Murray are the stats of only 12-11-9-3-2 scores conceded in their 5 Championship games which makes impressive reading.

It’s the defensive formation and set -up which has stood the ‘Nab in good stead all year, look how well they coped with the late barrage of aerial attacks from Maghery as they came searching for the equalizing goal. The recruitment of Ryan Kennedy as full-back has certainly steadied the ship combined with the link role of skipper Michael Beagan through whom a lot of ball is filtered out of defence. Disciplined defensive work from Paudi Crilly, Ruairi Gribben and James Gray has left life fairly comfortable for goalkeeper Sean Hughes.

Tyrone’s Paul Meegan has formed a good midfield pairing with Rory Grugan and their head to head with Morris and Oisin O’Neill will be a key feature of the game.

While Gavin McParland and Jack Grugan are the go to men up front for Ballymacnab Oisin McGivern, Ryan Watters, Brendan Toner, Pauric Gribben and Brian McCone all pitch in to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Not as one sided as the odds suggest

According to the bookies Ballymacnab (7/2) may as well stay at home as Cross are overwhelming 2/7 odds-on favourites to take the Gerry Fegan Cup back after a two year sabbatical. Instead the blatant disregard for their chances by the odds makers should be a help to the underdogs as it now gives them the license to just go out and play and see where that takes them, as all the pressure is on Cross.

The underdogs can concentrate on playing their own brand of football and not get bogged down in tactics warfare. Ballymacnab will need all their “big players” to produce their very best on the day and the remainder of the team to put in a massive effort and see if this can unsettle their vastly more experienced rivals.

The ‘Nab in a way already have the monkey off their back from the final drubbing of 7 years ago and can once again expect Cross to come out determined to blow them away in the opening 10 minutes. Will the ‘Nab start on the defensive or go all out themselves offensively ? as Rangers are the last team that you need to give encouragement to attack you.

Outside of their own Ballymacnab camp there will not be too many plumping for what would be a massive upset and a real shock to the system. While I myself cannot see anything but a Crossmaglen Rangers victory the shock could come in just how difficult this improving Ballymacnab outfit will make it for Rangers to cross the finishing line with not too much to spare.

How Crossmaglen and Ballymacnab got there

CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-12 Silverbridge 0-11

Crossmaglen Rangers 2-16 Madden 2-15

Crossmaglen Rangers 4-15 Clann Eireann 0-07

Crossmaglen Rangers 2-22 Armagh Harps 1-15

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-19 St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna 1-11

Played 5 Won 5 

For 8-84 Against. 4-59

Cross averaged 18 scores per game, conceding on average 12 scores per game

DID YOU KNOW?

*Crossmaglen Rangers last Senior Armagh Championship Final defeat was 0-06 to 0-04 to Carrickcruppen in 1982.

* Rangers have won the last 21 Armagh Senior finals in which they played, since that loss 36 years ago.

*This will be Crossmaglen Rangers 58th Senior Final with 41 wins and 16 losses.

BALLYMACNAB ROUND TOWERS

Ballymacnab Round Towers 3-14 Sarsfields 1-11

Ballymacnab Round Towers 5-17 Whitecrss 0-02 

Ballymacnab Round Towers 2-14 Dromintee 2-09

Ballymacnab Round Towers 1-10 Killeavy 0-03 

Ballymacnab Round Towers 1-09 Maghery 0-09

Played 5 Won 5 

For 12-64 Against. 3-34 

Ballymacnab averaged 15 scores per game, conceding on average 7 scores per game

DID YOU KNOW?

*Ballymacnab will be contesting their second Senior final having lost the 2011 decider to Crossmaglen 2-22 to 0-3

*The’Nab have been crowned Intermediate Champions in 2006 and won the Junior Championship in 1999.

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