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Crossmaglen among usual suspects in the hunt for title success

 

Extra bite: Chris Crowley has strengthened the Cross side
Extra bite: Chris Crowley has strengthened the Cross side
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The years may change, but the names coming out of the counties never show that much fluctuation.

A perennial contender in their province and a side with almost a cast-iron hold upon their county is Armagh's Crossmaglen Rangers.

They go into battle in the Athletic Grounds tomorrow, competing for their 21st title since 1996, a run unparalleled in other counties.

This is a repeat of last year's final with Ballymacnab, which the Rangers won by 0-24 to 1-15. If there are signs of overall slippage of the Rangers in earlier rounds of the championship, the kinks were well ironed out before they got to the knockout stages and beat Silverbridge and Maghery while conceding just a combined 0-15.

Part of the improvement is down to the inclusion of Chris Crowley, the Carlow player and native of Kerry who has made his home in Crossmaglen.

Ballymacnab ran up 2-12 against the fabled Armagh team in the group stages, but that has to be taken in the context that Rangers did not sustain their early pace when they found themselves up 1-7 to 0-0 after 10 minutes.

If there is one thing harming Cross chances, it is the absence of Jamie Clarke, who elected this year to play championship football with Neasden Gaels in London. He is now ineligible to field for the Rangers, a highly-unusual situation for someone still living in the town.

Tomorrow, in Ballybofey, another repeat of last year's final occurs when Gaoth Dobhair put their Donegal and Ulster titles on the line against local rivals Naomh Conaill.

The Glenties team are in their seventh final in 10 years and the third decider in the last four. It could be said that Gaoth Dobhair came from nowhere to land last year's Dr Maguire Cup, but they certainly made no mistake with a 0-17 to 1-7 win.

Quite apart from all their awesome young talent in the likes of Odhran McFadden-Ferry, Daire ÓBaoill and Michael Carroll, they have one of the most gifted footballers in the province in Odhran MacNiallais, who opted out of county football earlier this year.

At the other end of the scale they have Eamonn McGee, his brother Neil and Kevin Cassidy still holding back the ravages of time.

Cassidy in particular has been sucking the marrow out of his Indian summer, terrorising the Kilcar defence in the semi-final and popping up once again with the crucial goals.

In his weekly column - highly unusual for a current player - he notes this week: "We definitely didn't put as much into the league this time around and even in our group stages we were rusty enough, but now as we are at the business end of things you would hope everyone could produce their best when needed most."

The other senior final in Ulster features another 'drive for five', with Scotstown looking to reach a landmark achievement.

Standing in their way are Clontibret. Last year under John McEntee they narrowly escaped relegation and, with that, being regraded into intermediate. Their upsurge has coincided with the reintroduction back into the management team of Mick O'Dowd.

But Scotstown have added another element to the mix, with the inclusion of Peter Canavan to their coaching backroom team this year, along with manager Kieran Donnelly, Fergal Quinn and Paraic Duffy.

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