A battery of young guns have already helped fire out the message that Crossmaglen Rangers see the Ulster Club Championship title as the spoils of war but it’s a platoon of battle-hardened troops who could yet have a vital role in delivering the trophy.
With scoring ace Jamie Clarke and midfield dynamo Johnny Hanratty both ruled out of next Sunday’s semi-final against Burren in Casement Park through suspension, Rangers are set to lean even more heavily on their old hands to sustain the momentum that has already thrust them into the role of favourites for the provincial crown.
In clinically dismantling the challenge — and morale — of reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions St Gall’s, it was a gigantic 1-6 from marksman supreme Oisin McConville, three stunning saves from goalkeeper Paul Hearty, a boundless display of energy in both defence and attack from Aaron Kernan and important cameos from John McEntee and Francie Bellew that helped to cement the Armagh champions victory.
Already joint manager Tony McEntee has made it clear that while new kids on the block such as Danny O’Callaghan, Stephen
Finnegan, James Morgan and Francis Hanratty have been making their mark, the more experienced hands will have major roles to play in the club’s drive to land what would be their eighth Ulster crown since 1997.
“We have a good balance of youth and experience in the side but against St Gall’s people like Paul Hearty, Oisin McConville, Aaron Kernan and David McKenna stepped up to the mark in great style,” said McEntee.
It was perhaps family modesty that prevented him from dwelling too much on the role fulfilled by his twin brother John who came out of retirement to help guide the Rangers through the closing phase, deploying his traditional clever distribution and firing over a point to ensure they finished with a flourish.
“We have had changes forced on us but we have to live with that.
“While we are delighted to have got past St Gall’s we know that there are three very good sides — Burren, Coalisland and Naomh Conail along with ourselves left in the race and any one of them is capable of the title,” added McEntee.
He took in Sunday’s entertaining Burren v Coleraine tie and has already dissected Burren’s impressive performance that culminated in a 10-point victory (1-12 to 0-5).
“The Ulster Club series is building up to a tremendous climax.
“We face a massive test against Burren who have been showing superb form lately.”