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Familiar faces remain at the forefront in battle to reign supreme as kings of Ulster

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Champions: St Gall’s players Kevin McGourty, Kieran McGourty, Sean Kelly, Colin Brady and Terry O’Neill who all collected their 13th Antrim Senior Football Championship medal when their team beat Cargin in Sunday’s final

Champions: St Gall’s players Kevin McGourty, Kieran McGourty, Sean Kelly, Colin Brady and Terry O’Neill who all collected their 13th Antrim Senior Football Championship medal when their team beat Cargin in Sunday’s final

Champions: St Gall’s players Kevin McGourty, Kieran McGourty, Sean Kelly, Colin Brady and Terry O’Neill who all collected their 13th Antrim Senior Football Championship medal when their team beat Cargin in Sunday’s final

Here is the good news for any clubs aspiring to put together a run of around a dozen Championships; there is no secret formula, panacea or magic wand.

Here's the bad news; it takes a lot of hard work and serious commitment.

And that's where many clubs fall down. On Sunday, Crossmaglen Rangers took home their 18th Armagh senior Championship in 19 years. Over in Antrim, St Gall's took their 13th in 14 years. Neither club indulge in voodoo, according to those closest to the teams.

For 10 years as a senior footballer, Donal Murtagh knew lean times in Crossmaglen. He was there, he says, when they couldn't find 15 footballers to train. Once he won his first Championship, he did not stop until he had won 10-in-a-row and a cruciate ligament injury stopped the then 36-year-old.

From that point, he took over as manager. There was talk of an ageing squad, which he didn't like hearing. They had the likes of John Donaldson and Cathal Short approaching the natural end of their cycle, but they also had John and Tony McEntee, Francie Bellew and Oisin McConville.

Murtagh introduced Jamie Clarke, David McKenna, Aaron Cunningham, Paul McKeown, James Morgan, Paul Kernan, the Johnnies Hanratty and Murtagh and Rico Kelly to senior football. Somewhere in the middle were the Kernan brothers.

"They all came through at the one time," he recalls. "I think we got four out of one minor team one year and three the next.

"The secret of Cross always was that they had their star players and they had another 10 or 12 players nearly as good just behind the scenes, backing up the star players."

That theory is shared by Ronan Gallagher. When he transferred to St Gall's, his initial impression was how their success was largely dependent on the character of the players.

He won several Antrim Championships and the 2010 All-Ireland club title and now that he is selector on the current team, that belief has only grown.

"Yes, management are there and any manager who was there did a great job - and Lenny (Harbison) in particular, and you need the structure and organisation," says the former Fermanagh goalkeeper.

"But there are no frills. It is basic hard work and commitment. That's what I see."

And he also rubbishes a common misconception that St Gall's tailor their training to peak with the Ulster club campaign, taking Antrim for granted.

"That's absolutely wrong," he retorts. "You cannot take any team, on any day for granted.

"That's what St Gall's do on any given day. It's a performance you are looking for and I can only assume that's what other teams who are winning Championships are doing. They are working exceptionally hard, not only in June and July, but in October, November, December.

"Most people would agree that the top nine or 10 teams in Ulster are doing that, treating their preparation as close to a county standard. I know Kilcoo would fall into that bracket, Ballinderry would also. Clontibret, Scotstown also."

When this all started for Crossmaglen, they had Joe Kernan in charge, one of the foremost thinkers on the game.

Nowadays when they make a managerial appointment they have an abundance of respected figures to choose from.

After Murtagh stood down, Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill came in. When their time came to an end, Kernan stepped back in for a season. Now they have McConville and John McEntee.

It's hard to know when this will all end for Cross. But no time soon, insists Murtagh.

"I'm wondering what the rest of the county thinks of this but at the end of the day they can't expect us to lie down and not compete. We go out to compete every year," he says.

"We will go through hard times in the future, but I don't know when that will be, I think it will be a long way away because we have a good minor team coming through at the minute and I would be surprised if we didn't get four or five top class players out of that straight onto the seniors.

"Then we have an under-16 team coming through that we can get one or two from. There's no doubt about it, the club are well set-up, it's well run."

And then, he gives something away that most clubs overlook - respect.

"First and foremost, they are told how to respect the club, the fundamentals of behaving properly within the club structure and all that and they seem to be better for it.

"The ones who are not prepared to put in that effort usually fall by the wayside at 15, 16, 17 years of age. The ones that you need will come through and carry the club on."

Never a truer word spoken.

Belfast Telegraph