Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

McKenna hoping to stand tall as Crossmaglen Rangers bid for 10th Ulster title

David McKenna may wear the No 9 shirt in his role as a midfield dynamo for Crossmaglen Rangers but right now 10 is the magic number as far as he is concerned.

The six feet four inches tall, McKenna is hoping to lead his side into double figures in terms of Ulster club championship triumphs when they meet Kilcoo in the decider at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh, on Sunday.

McKenna was still getting to grips with life in primary school when Rangers commenced their dominance of the provincial scene by collecting the first of their nine titles to date in 1996.

Since then, the club has entered the history-books as one of the most successful in the 129-year history of the GAA.

But McKenna is anxious to stamp his own imprimatur on Sunday’s showdown for several reasons.

“I would consider it a massive honour to lead the Rangers to a 10th Ulster title,” reflects the softly-spoken but fiercely driven central area colossus.

“As well as that, a win would see us land a first hat-trick of provincial crowns.

“It would also help our younger players to further acquire a taste for success and it would help keep us on course to retain our All-Ireland crown in the New Year.”

It’s hardly surprising then that McKenna is stoking the passion, fervour and raging ambition that will underpin yet another Rangers’ glory mission.

“I feel very privileged to be following in the footsteps of some great captains of this club. But to be truthful my job is rendered easy because we have so many leaders all over the park.,” says McKenna.

“Players like Aaron Kernan, Oisin McConville, Stephen Kernan, Paul Hearty and the rest don’t need the likes of me to tell them how to do their jobs.”

When Danny O’Callaghan and Franny Hanratty emigrated and several key players including Paul Kernan, Paul McKeown and Aaron Cunningham succumbed to injury earlier this year, a cloud of uncertainty engulfed the club.

Yet, without quite engaging top gear, they managed to retain the Armagh title — their 16th in the last 17 years — before rediscovering their flair and sparkle en route into Sunday’s provincial decider.

And with O’Callaghan now back in the fold, Kernan and McKeown having all but grown accustomed to playing through the pain barrier and Jamie Clarke agreeing to put his travel plans on hold, morale, it seems, couldn’t be better for the showdown with Kilcoo.

“The boys are just chomping at the bit,” reveals a buoyant McKenna.

“They were flying in training on Monday and Wednesday of this week.

“We will do some ball work tonight and then have a team meeting — I would have to say that the whole atmosphere is just superb.”

McKenna’s upbeat philosophy is endorsed by joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill with the former confirming that Rangers, who have beaten St Eunan’s and Errigal Ciaran in the Ulster series to date, are “poised but wary.”

“Kilcoo have shown a tremendous work ethic in both the Down and Ulster championships and they are a very difficult team to play against never mind beat. We will have our work cut,” insists McEntee.

But with a full hand from which to deal, the Rangers buoyancy is understandable.

In contrast, Kilcoo have never been in an Ulster club final before although their achievement in winning two Down titles in the last three years has propelled the side onto a special pedestal.

Their side is embossed with experience and flair and their recent progress has inculcated a fresh level of confidence.

“Kilcoo have progressed an awful lot and will have a very structured game plan,” reckons McEntee.

“It will be up to us to hit the ground running and get a grip on the game.

“If we don’t do this we could be trouble. We are poised but wary,” he added.