AS Crossmaglen Rangers attempt to defend their Armagh, Ulster and All-Ireland titles, the also-rans who take part in this season’s Gerry Fegan cup will be attempting to secure their day in the sun.
With promotion and relegation issues taking a back seat to allow the Senior Championship’s entry on to centre stage, Clan na Gael, Maghery, Clann Éireann and Sarsfields, along with title hopefuls Dromintee, Pearse Og, Granemore and Cullyhanna, all attempt to change the landscape and at some stage lower the colours of the black and ambers.
Clann Éireann are first up, the Shore Road outfit are in good form at the moment and are leading the charge in division two but their tussle with the County Champions this Saturday will be the real acid test, and the club’s most difficult Championship game in modern times.
Ryan Henderson’s decision to step down from the Armagh squad to concentrate on Irish League football with Donegal Celtic has freed up the player to be also available for duty with Clann Éireann.
Henderson’s contribution to his club has been immense this season, but there are others on the Shore Road side who have also contributed to the Clanns push for promotion.
In fairness to the Lurgan side, several of their line out this weekend will be well suited to the rough and tumble of what could be a physical game.
Mark Beattie will be providing the drive around the middle along with Conor Bell. Sean McDermott has had an outstanding season and both Mickey Shanks and Steven McAreavey have the attrtibutes required for a hard hitting encounter.
Rangers will be without their influential midfielder Johnny Hanratty who is currently suspended and their captain Paul McKeown, who could be out for a while with a suspected broken jaw sustained against Ballymacnab in a league game, but Cross’ will still have quite an armoury to produce on the day.
The Rangers will probably line out a full back line of Steven Finnegan, Paul Kernan and James Morgan behind a half back trio of Aaron Kernan, Danny O’Callaghan and possibly Brendan McKeown.
If Cross have a weakness, it is their midfield sector. John McEntee was drafted into this section last season but the former county player is now managing Cullaville. Even in last season’s facile win over Carrickcruppin, the South Armagh kingpins struggled around the middle, as they did against Maghery recently in the league when Danny O’Callaghan and Tony Kernan struggled against James Lavery.
But it is the Rangers’ attack which is their most potent sector. Oisin McConville has been getting more game time recently and Steven Kernan and Aaron Cunningham are effective at this level. Cross’ rarely bring on defenders in the latter stages of games, but try and finish off opponents by introducing fast full forwards like Kyle Carragher and Martin Aherne.
Against Wolfe Tones in the league, Clann Éireann pushed Mickey Shanks up front and, if he has recovered from injury, his presence could cause Paul Kernan and, in particular, Paul Hearty problems in the air if selected at full forward.
Ryan Henderson’s performance will be crucial for Clann Éireann who gave a good account of themselves the last time they played in the Championship at the Athletic Grounds.
Both Clan na Gael and Carrickcruppin have valid needs to be successful when they meet each other in this weekend’s Senior Championship clash.
The sides have been struggling in the first division this season and a Senior Championship run could restore confidence.
It has been 17 years since the Clans last won a Senior title, a scenario which no one at the Francis Street club could have anticipated considering the history of the club.
On Monday night, when Sarsfields meet Maghery in the Gerry Fegan cup at Clann Éireann, Maghery will be attempting to beat their North Armagh rivals for the first time in Championship football.
Sarsfields were in terrible form last Sunday against Granemore, with on the other hand, Maghery, who will start the game as favourites, showing good league form.
The ‘Trasna club can select from almost a full strength squad for their Championship opener.
Dromintee play Pearse Óg in what is undoubtedly the tie of the round.