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Crossmaglen have grounds for optimism at last

By John Campbell

Less than a week ago Naomh Conaill enjoyed the luxury of being able to train on an outdoor snow-free grass surface — and now it’s hardly surprising that Crossmaglen Rangers joint-manager Tony McEntee feels this might afford them some slight advantage going into tomorrow’s Ulster club final at Clones (1.45pm).

Enterprising Naomh Conaill manager Cathal Corey, who hails from Kildress in Tyrone, had his players out on the pitch of a neighbouring Donegal club last Sunday and certainly sees this as having bolstered optimism for tomorrow’s showdown with the Armagh champions.

But while the pragmatic McEntee freely admits that Rangers’ preparations have been “less than satisfactory” because of the weather, he believes that, assuming adverse conditions do not again jettison the fixture, his team’s ambition and pride will sustain them.

“We are all very keen to see this game played. I know there is another pitch inspection today and obviously we will have to wait and make sure that there are no 11th-hour hiccups but right now we are ready for battle,” raps a defiant McEntee.

“We don’t want to be seen to be making excuses in advance — we just want to get out there and win the game.”

His team have had to confine themselves to indoor work in the gymnasium while south Armagh in particular was held in a vice-like Arctic grip over the course of the

past fortnight. McEntee, happy to have Jamie Clarke back from suspension and pleased that his brother John and the wily Francie Bellew offer him interesting options from the substitutes’ bench, sounds a note of caution nonetheless. “I think that Naomh Conaill have gained in confidence as they have moved through the Ulster Club championship,” adds McEntee. “People seem to forget that they have beaten Kingscourt, Clontibret and Coalisland who are no bad teams.

“This gives us some idea of what we can expect tomorrow.”

Naomh Conaill boss Corey has already impressed on his players the need for absolute concentration and total discipline against a Crossmaglen side known for its craft and physicality.

The Donegal champions’ defence will be anchored by Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone can be an imposing presence in midfield and Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy is capable of carrying a big threat up front should he be plied with quality possession.

Molloy, who made a sensational debut for Donegal against Down in the Ulster Championship last year, has the potential to prove a match-winner but then Rangers are not short in this respect either as Oisin McConville is playing as well as ever, Tony Kernan is a sharp marksman and Michael McNamee has been racking up points.

Rangers will be very much at home at Clones although joint- boss McEntee disputes the theory that this will give them any sort of head start.

“It does not really matter where the match is played,” insists McEntee. “Both teams are very hungry for success, the surroundings are not all that important. We would like to get another Ulster title and then have a crack at landing the All-Ireland crown.”

Belfast Telegraph


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