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All Ireland Club Championship: Crossmaglen Rangers on brink of historic high five

By John Campbell

Records are made to be broken — and no team is better equipped to do this than Crossmaglen Rangers.

For the past 15 years the club has been constantly raising the bar in terms of achievement in a county, provincial and All-Ireland context.

Today the Rangers will seek to have their names once again inscribed in the annals of GAA history by winning what would be a stunning fifth All-Ireland Club crown since 1997.

No other team can match this level of accomplishment and when their 14 Armagh titles and eight Ulster Club crowns within the same period are thrown into the mix it is easy to understand why Crossmaglen are held in such awe.

Good teams enjoy occasional flirtations with success — great sides make it a way of life.

So it is with the Rangers yet there is not the slightest element of complacency within their renowned psyche as they approach their All-Ireland Club final against proud Connacht standard-bearers St Brigid’s from Roscommon in Croke Park.

Indeed, the fact that they have been singularly unconvincing in some of their games to date, particularly in the Armagh and Ulster club championships, ensures that the Rangers go into battle with their guard firmly up.

Joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill, who have seen and done it all as players them

selves, make no bones about it — a big performance in every sense is required if the record books are to be re-written.

“We expect the players to go into the game with a winning mind-set but that does not necessarily guarantee success,” says McEntee.

“They have to perform to optimum levels and if they do then I feel we can get the right result.”

If their victory over fancied Kilmacud Crokes in the semi-final further fermented the Rangers ambition to go the full distance, then St Brigid’s triumph over Cork and Munster champions Nemo Rangers — no strangers to All-Ireland Club success — fired out the message that they too have strong designs on emerging as the best club in the country.

Like the Rangers, they embody youth and experience. While Oisin McConville, Paul Hearty, John McEntee, Aaron Kernan and impact substitute Francie Bellew are the Ulster champions’ senior citizens, Danny O’Callaghan, Franny Hanratty, James Morgan and Aaron Cunningham are among the relatively new kids on the block. Similarly, St Brigid’s will lean on the power and craft of Frankie Dolan, Senan Kilbride and Karl Mannion.

McConville’s phenomenal scoring exploits from play and frees and Jamie Clarke’s penchant for pirating vital goals perhaps more than anything else serve to tilt the scales in Rangers favour.

Given their track record at all levels, the rampant desire of the new players in particular to leave an indelible imprint at Headquarters and the fact that this could be a last hurrah for the already lavishly-decorated Oisin McConville, it is difficult not to see Crossmaglen Rangers having an extra special reason to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in considerable style.

Belfast Telegraph

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