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Paul rides the crest of a big Mexican wave

By John Campbell

Paul McKeown certainly has something to celebrate today.

The 19-year-old Crossmaglen Rangers defender has just been confirmed as the latest winner of the Tennent's GAA Writers Association monthly merit award.

Outstanding performances against Dromore and St Galls last month secured the prize for the blond plumber who has ensured that there are few if any leaks in the Armagh champions' rearguard.

Yet earlier this year Paul's involvement in the Ulster Club championship looked remote - to say the least.

He had booked a two-week holiday in Mexico earlier in the year but when he revealed this to manager Donal Murtagh he was quickly informed that no player would be allowed to exit the panel even on a temporary basis.

"I had my holiday booked and paid for so I really had no option but to go for it. I knew what the consequences would be so I had to pay the penalty on my return and I lost my place," explains Paul.

But he was granted an unexpected reprieve when John Donaldson found himself on the receiving end of a one-month suspension following his dismissal in the Ulster Club tie against Clontibret.

"I went in first as a substitute, then I was picked against Dromore and St Galls in the Ulster Club semi-final and final and thankfully everything went well for both myself and the team in those games. It was great to have a part in those two games but to win the Ulster writers' award is just something that I never thought possible," says the lightly-built defender.

"In fact," he added, "I thought this was something that might not have come my way for maybe about ten years!"

But Paul's consistency in the high-pressure matches that saw the Rangers retain their mantle as the best club in the province put him head and shoulders above all other candidates for the honour.

In fact, it was another McKeown - centre-half-back Brendan and a cousin of Paul - who was amongt hose in the frame for the writers accolade.

Also in the running were Oisin McConville and Dromore utility player Ryan McMenamin.

Paul received a Tennent's sportsvoucher, an engraved Belleek China vase, training gear from Pro*Sport and specially designed silver cuff links from Gareth Mallon from Omeath.

He will also receive two tickets to the GAA Writers Association banquet next November.

Paul's stunning form in the Rangers defence has left manager Donal Murtagh with an not unpleasant problem ahead of next month's AIB All Ireland Club quarter-final against Tir Conaill Gaels in London.

CROSSMAGLEN Rangers manager Donal Murtagh could find himself with an embarrassment of defensive riches in the build-up to his team's AIB All Ireland quarter-final clash with Tir Conaill Gaels in London next month.

With John Donaldson due to return from suspension and Francie Bellew currently stepping up his personal training regime, Murtagh may have rearguard options.

But the Rangers manager is adopting a wait and see policy.

"Obviously you would like to have everyone on board for a match of this nature but we will wait and see how things go. John Donaldson has missed our last couple of games through suspension having been sent off against Clontibret and he certainly brings great experience to our team while Francie Bellew has been doing a lot more in training although he would be short of match practice," points out Murtagh, head greenkeeper at Mannin Castle golf club in Carrickmacross.

In the absence of this duo, the Rangers have collected another Ulster Club title and shown the kind of hunger and commitment that bodes well for the retention of their All Ireland crown.

Certainly, they will have all to play for in the early stages of the New Year.

Belfast Telegraph


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