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Crossmaglen Rangers young guns boost Joe Kernan's bid for lucky 13

By John Campbell

When Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill stepped down as the Crossmaglen Rangers management team earlier this year, the club was only too happy to turn back the clock when it came to appointing their successor.

Into the breach stepped Joe Kernan, who had already masterminded 12 championship title triumphs spanning Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland competitions.

That might normally prove sufficient to sate even the most voracious appetite but the passage of time has further sharpened Kernan's desire to see the Rangers' reputation as perhaps the greatest club of all time further enhanced.

And when he unhesitatingly took up the reins again, it was the well-oiled conveyor belt of youthful talent operating at full tilt that convinced him more success is probable rather than possible.

That's why when the Rangers face St Patrick's Cullyhanna in Sunday's Armagh championship final (5.30pm), Kernan will look to virtual unknowns such as Kyle Brennan, Paul Hughes, Kyle Carragher and Calum Comiskey to help spark a 17th title in 18 seasons for the club.

There will be no sign of experienced quartet Jamie Clarke, Paul Kernan, James Morgan and Ronan Finnegan in the line-up but you won't find Kernan wringing his hands in frustration.

"It is something of a tradition within the club that when players move on, retire or are injured then others are always ready and able to step up and fill the gaps and that's what has happened here lately," explains Kernan.

"There are boys who have been itching to get their chance and when they were included in the side they proved they were worthy of their places. Now they face the challenge of trying to bring another county crown to the club but I feel that is within their capacity."

The restructured Rangers side had initially triggered a wave of optimism amongst other teams that they could be finally removed from their county throne, but as the Armagh championship unfolded it became clear that different personnel were still able to chisel out the familiar results.

"But we are certainly not complacent going into this final. We have the greatest respect for St Patrick's who we know have a massive desire to win as this is their first final," said Kernan.

Having overseen six Armagh title coups, Kernan is hoping to enter seventh heaven on Sunday night but St Patrick's have already set their stall out for the decider.

Manager Jody Gormley expects to have a full hand from which to choose in a side known for its fierce work ethic.

Gormley recognises, though, that a partial changing of the guard within the Crossmaglen ranks is unlikely to derail their title ambitions.

"We couldn't ask for a tougher test. Rangers have been in a class of their own but we will be giving it our best shot," says Gormley.

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