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Cross production line is still churning out top class talent


Emerging force: Cross’s Rian O’Neill is certainty for county football next year
Emerging force: Cross’s Rian O’Neill is certainty for county football next year
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Any possible investigation into occurrences during the win over Coalisland in the Ulster quarter-final appear to have come to nought as Crossmaglen Rangers have a full panel to select from for this weekend's clash with Gaoth Dobhair.

That includes the return from injury of Tony Kernan, which will give a youthful side some much-needed experience.

Of the four teams in action in Omagh, Cross have the largest number of those that have played county football with 10. An 11th, Rian O'Neill, is a certainty to join that number next year.

It's been over 20 years since Crossmaglen first won an All-Ireland club title and the miracle is how a small town such as this keeps producing footballers of the rare quality of the McEntee brothers, Oisin McConville, Jamie Clarke, right down to the emerging Oisin and Rian O'Neill.

The team bears no physical resemblance from the days of John Donaldson and Francie Bellew manning defence and Colm O'Neill, the McEntees and Anthony Cunningham sprinkled through the team.

But what they haven't lost is the ability to win games in the final 10 minutes. Their Armagh county final win over Ballymacnab and the quarter-final victory over Coalisland offers testimony to that.

It has been 12 years since Gaoth Dobhair last won the county title and they have two-time All-Star Kevin Cassidy in attack, along with Eamon McGee.

Gaoth Dobhair have been cruelly hit with an injury to centre-back and county player Kieran Gillespie, who ruptured his cruciate in the early stages of the quarter-final win over Antrim champions Cargin in Corrigan Park.

Odhran MacNiallais was also kept out of that game with a hamstring injury and the languid talent would need to be on top form here.

Because make no mistake, Gaoth Dobhair have the talent to make it a game here, but they cannot do without MacNiallais' talent for long-range scores.

Elsewhere through the line out, they have the aforementioned Kevin Cassidy, Eamon and Neil McGee, Michael Carroll who struck for the all-important goal to seal the win over Cargin, Cian Mulligan who hit a couple of goals in Donegal's Ulster campaign this year and robust midfielder Daire ÓBaoill.

"At 37 years of age I thought my chances were well gone," said Cassidy this week, who has never hid his admiration of the south Armagh side in his columns for Ulster weekly 'Gaelic Life.'

"I just loved the way they stuck to principles. Even when the defensive style came in, they stick to their guns. They didn't deviate, they played football and from talking to different people and seeing how that happened, their answer was that we don't want to copy anybody else.

"I think that's massive."

A common criticism of Gaoth Dobhair is that in their county final win over Naomh Conaill, and even after compiling a large half-time gap in the Ulster quarter-final game against Cargin, they retreated into defence and invited teams to hurt them. However, Cassidy insists that has been addressed.

"I really think the game against Crossmaglen will be a real humdinger because our lads love to play ball," he adds.

Crossmaglen vs Gaoth Dobhair

Ulster Club SFC Semi-final :

Healy Park, Tomorrow, 3.30pm

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