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Donnelly hails Rangers' strength in depth for title quest

 

Rian O'Neill
Rian O'Neill
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Crossmaglen Rangers have already fired out a statement of intent in relation to their drive for renewed dominance of the Armagh Senior Football Championship, but the indications are that only the tip of what could prove to be a formidable iceberg has loomed into view.

When the Rangers strolled to a runaway 3-18 to 0-9 victory over Lurgan side Clann Eireann, which has earned them a meeting with Sarsfields on Sunday, they provided an early pointer that retaining their county title could be well within their gambit.

The Crossmaglen club won 13 consecutive titles between 1996 and 2008 before surrendering the crown to Pearse Og in 2009 and then reclaiming it for the 2010-2015 period.

Maghery lifted the silverware in 2016 and Armagh Harps reigned supreme in 2017 before normal business resumed when Rangers were restored to the county throne last year after beating Ballymacnab in the decider.

The fact that they won the game against St Peter's so handsomely without the considerable talents of the suspended Rian O'Neill and the injured James Coyle hinted at the strength in depth which manager Kieran Donnelly has at his disposal.

"Obviously Rian and James are two big players for us and while we now expect to have Rian back from suspension, James could be out for the rest of the summer with a knee problem," said Donnelly.

"We are monitoring him but I think we have players coming in now who are capable of doing the business for us."

O'Neill, who is in line to win a place on the Ulster All-Stars team, earned generous plaudits in Armagh's colours over the course of the summer before his side exited the All-Ireland qualifiers to Mayo (2-13 to 1-15) in one of the best matches of the series overall.

He also picked up a Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' monthly merit award and is being hailed as one of the best young prospects to have emerged on the provincial stage for some time.

But O'Neill, whose father Gareth formerly managed Crossmaglen Rangers and played for both Louth and Armagh, is remaining thoroughly grounded as the county Championship steps up a gear.

"Obviously in more recent years Armagh Harps and Maghery have won the title, so the competition has got tougher," insisted O'Neill.

Meanwhile, Ulster University student Patrick Durcan is among the nominees for the coveted GAA Player of the Month award for August. His outstanding performance for Mayo in the semi-final of the All-Ireland Championship against Dublin now sees him thrust in alongside Kerry's Stephen O'Brien and Dubs ace Con O'Callaghan for the signal honour.

Ironically, O'Callaghan's inclusion on the shortlist stems mainly from his blistering two-goal salvo at the start of the second half against Mayo.

O'Brien, meanwhile, was imperious in Kerry's win against Tyrone when his 56th-minute goal proved crucial.

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