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Cross Examination

October 9, 2012

Injuries and immigration have meant that defending Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland champions Crossmaglen Rangers have limped their way into the County final where they will face a thorough cross examination from Pearse Og as they try to keep their hopes of three in a row on all fronts on track. The fact that the Armagh city side are the last team to defeat the champions in the domestic championship adds spice and intrigue as speculation mounts that they are primed for a repeat of their 2009 heroics.

IMPRESSIVE OG’S

Pearse Og have made no secret of the fact that they feel that it is their time to dethrone the champions as Ronan Clarke aside they have a fully fit panel of players at their disposal this championship campaign. Former All-Star Ronan recovering well from a long rehabilitation from a series of injuries was not on the field 5 minutes in the 0-18 to 0-8 semi-final win over St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna when he was sadly stretchered off with another injury and will miss the showpiece final.

Three Championship wins without being unduly tested could be a hindrance rather than a help for the Og’s. But as the saying goes you can only beat what is put in front of you and the city side have certainly done that with aplomb. The key for the Og’s in those Championship victories has been the fact that they have been out of the starting stalls faster than the hare setting up a solid winning foundation inside the opening quarter of each match. Experienced netminder Ciaran McKinney is not alone hard to beat but is a catalyst in starting up a lot of deep attacking moves with his accurate distribution of the ball and his all round calming influence in collecting anything loose in or around his square. Just in front of him is Michael Carson, Gerard Barton, Gerard McCoy with Carson adopting a sweeper role to great effect. The Og’s most potent line is their half back line which as well as a solid defensive unit very adept at man marking are a fulcrum for the offensive with Paul Duffy, Andy Mallon and Darnell Parkinson all very attack minded and able to take their scores when presented with the opportunity.

Midfielder Chris Rafferty has built on his underage potential and forms a formidable partnership with John Paul Donnelly. The half forwards of veteran Kieran Hughes, Anto Duffy and Conor Clarke are very industrious and hard working forming their first defensive line when the opposition has the ball. The inside trio of Tommy Turley, Sean Clarke and Marc Cullen certainly know how to dissect the uprights and plunge the three pointers when the opportunity presents.

VULNURABLE CHAMPIONS

Injuries aside the most worrying feature of the champions championship campaign to date for their management has been that they have been uncharacteristically leaking goals. To date the concession of these goals has not ultimately proven to be costly in the end but it did serve teams with the opportunity to cause an upset as they were given lifelines in matches that the Champions could have cruised through. With All-Ireland winning number 6 Danny O’Callaghan down under, finding a replacement to fill the role as effectively as he did has become a problem for the Champions. The ground and space that O’Callaghan covered went largely un-noticed until his absence. Replacement Garvan Carragher is a different type of player and different personnel beside him in his outings has not helped his cause.

The real issue for Cross before the final is what starting 15 is available for selection. In the semi-final win over ’Cruppen Rangers started without Paul McKeown, Danny O’Callaghan, Stephen Finnegan, Franny Hanratty, Stephen Kernan, Mickey McNamee and Jamie Clarke before losing full back Paul Kernan two minutes into the game. A recurrence of his old shoulder injury leaves the full back as the main doubt for Sunday’s showdown in the Rangers camp. Vulnerability in the key defensive positions will be a worry for the Champions.

To their credit Cross, with their resources fully stretched they have found talented minors in Mel Boyce and Callum Cumiskey to step up to the mark. Kyle Carragher in attack is another to come of age now that he is getting regular football. Veteran Oisin McConville will have benefitted from a first Championship outing in the semi-final victory as will returnee Jamie Clarke who impressed when coming on as substitute in the ’Cruppen victory.

CHAMPIONS TRACK RECORD TO PREVAIL

The proven track record of Crossmaglen Rangers will be enough to see them over the line against the Og’s. The challengers in the past have failed to hit the target as prolifically against the Champions as in other games. The city side struggle for scores with 0-9 in their last meeting a semi-final defeat that avenged Og’s 0-8 to 0-4 last Championship win against Rangers their highest score. Defensively the Og’s have done well against Sundays finalists in limiting them to goal opportunities but the better balanced spread of score from Cross nearly always gives them the edge.

Normally playing second fiddle at midfield Cross duo of Captain David McKenna and Johnny Hanratty can be the platform for success  on which Cross can build on Sunday. The hard working Hanratty and big game player McKenna can win over against Ragfferty and Donnelly to gain enough possession for Rangers marksmen to flurish. Rangers minus any of the four Kernan brothers are a diminished outfit should Paul and Stephen not make it their backs will really be to the wall. Og’s will be well mindful of their task to curb the influence of key Cross defender Aaron whose increasing influence in a Black and Amber jersey is getting more powerful with every outing.

Cross are where they want to be playing football in October. Past masters at answering the big questions when they are put to them Rangers have been through the mill when it comes facing stiff tests and Sunday is certainly another one of those tough cross examinations. Cross have not gone through a rigorous September training regime to throw it all away in early October. The Champions will go toe to toe with the Og’s and employ man marking procedures to curb the Conor and Sean Clarke scoring threat which was adopted all too late in the second half by St Pat’s. Cross have the quality and class players to step up to the mark when the going gets tough and will not be too generous this time in giving away goals otherwise they could pay the ultimate penalty. A tough, tight encounter with a premium of frees to see Cross keep their dreams of a third treble safely over the first hurdle.

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