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Joe Kernan: Triple coup would just do very nicely

The winners’ enclosure is invariably a pleasant place to be no matter what the sport. And over the course of the next week I’m hoping to enjoy a triple coup.

Mario Kempes, a horse in which I have a vested interest, is running today at Cheltenham and naturally I, along with my co-owners who include Down manager Ross Carr, will be hoping to enhance our bank balances ever so slightly.

I’m there in the flesh to urge the horse on, of course.

The horse is named after the famous Argentinian footballer - a player who showed class and grace.

That’s what I hope Ireland will display when they meet Scotland in the Six Nations Rugby Championship on Saturday and I’ll be looking for the same qualities to be replicated by Crossmaglen Rangers when they oppose Kilmacud Crokes in the AIB All Ireland Club Football final at Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day.

Ireland are still in pursuit of an all-too-rare Grand Slam but for the Rangers the possibility of landing what would be a fifth All Ireland Club title in just twelve years looms large on the horizon.

Their dominance of the club scene at county, provincial and national level has been markedly pronounced but it seems their formidable track record of success has merely whetted appetites even further for more glory.

Many people, myself included, are left to wonder just how players, particularly those who have seen and done it all, can maintain their hunger and, more importantly, their high standards of play.

It was John Donaldson, the current Rangers captain, who perhaps best encapsulated the team’s psyche when he remarked: “Our ongoing quest for honours is all down to pride and a desire to be the very best.”

Donaldson himself sets a superb example to the younger guns in terms of application, commitment and integrity.

Indeed, when you have players like Oisin McConville, the McEntee twins John and Tony, Francie Bellew, Paul Martin and Cathal Short there to give a lead, it’s no wonder that the younger players have responded in such positive fashion.

Mind you, the Rangers will have their work cut out against a Kilmacud Crokes side that contains many fine individual players including Brian Kavanagh (Longford), Mark Vaughan (Dublin) and Liam McBarron (Fermanagh).

Kilmacud have charted a difficult course into the decider and I believe that there will be some 50,000 people in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day to see what should prove a thrilling game.

Crossmaglen carry considerable pedigree into the final and their fusion of youth and experience represents the kind of cocktail that any manager would desire to have at his disposal no matter what the level.

They will certainly not freeze in what will be a lively Croke Park atmosphere and I have no doubt that they will have the backing of everyone in Ulster.

Armagh manager Peter McDonnell is among the many people hoping that the Rangers can come up trumps again but whatever the outcome of the game, I have no doubt that he will be glad to have some of their players to call upon for the latter stages of the National League.

I watched Armagh lose to Monaghan on Sunday but they gave a more heartening performance than they did against Laois.

The availability of the Rangers contingent and the anticipated return of some others should certainly help to bolster Peter’s resources.

Another side seeking a boost is All Ireland champions Tyrone who have lost back to back home matches against Dublin and Galway.

Manager Mickey Harte has been forced to do without some marquee players of late and will surely be hoping to bulk up his side for the remainder of their campaign.

Derry found Kerry rather too hot in the end and it was encouraging to see Tadgh Kennelly in the Kingdom’s colours.

Here’s a player who has to all intents and purposes turned his back on a lucrative career in the Australian Football League and I certainly hope that his skills will now flourish in the gaelic football arena. We certainly want to see more player traffic coming in this direction rather than heading off Down Under!

Donegal have just one point to date and with games against Ulster opponents Derry and Tyrone looming, they face a potentially sticky second half of their league campaign.

Fermanagh’s slip-up against Cork and Down’s aberration against Cavan has left both with work to do. Antrim are still on course, though, to perhaps move up from Division Four.

But the National League is certainly bubbling along nicely and it will be interesting to see if the Ulster sides can mount a serious challenge for honours.

Derry are the reigning champions, of course, but the form which both Kerry and Galway have shown so far suggests that they will not be too far away when the finishing line is in sight.

Other teams have ground to make up but there are some exciting matches on the horizon, particularly in Division One.

Belfast Telegraph

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