Sarsfields aiming for glory
THE Highmoss Sarsfields senior team are hoping to bridge a 20 year gap when they face the biggest test of their 2010 season this Sunday as they travel to Crossmaglen for the Intermediate Championship Final against Cullaville.
Whilst the Hoops’ South Armagh opponents would have little more to do than fall out of bed to land at Oliver Plunkett Park, hundreds of ‘Trasna supporters will make their way to the backyard of their title opponents in the knowledge that events which take place during the sixty minutes of Championship football will take precedence above all others.
Sarsfields manager Patsy Donnelly, who will have his trainer Paddy Murray and assistant Francis Reynolds beside him on the touchline, was a prolific full-forward when an Intermediate Title last made its way to the Loughshore club back in 1969.
However, a Championship hoodoo appeared to stalk the ‘Trasna club when, during Clan na Gael’s period of dominance at Senior level, Sarsfields lost seven semi-finals before Brian McAlinden delivered the side with a McKillop cup success back in 1990.
Twenty years on and the Highmoss club, who had several of their youngsters with one leg still in the cot when they slumped to the Third Division, are now back in business and are buoyed by their recent consolidation in Armagh’s top-flight.
Whilst this particular Sarsfields outfit does not possess the physical cutting edge enjoyed by ‘Trasna teams in the past, their skill and fitness levels are unquestioned.
Similar to Cullaville, the Hoops play a slick running game but inadequacies in defence this season have forced the Highmoss to attempt to outscore rather than outmuscle their opponents.
Cullaville have already beaten the Sarsfields in league action this year and in last season’s Championship campaign they scraped home against the North Armagh side having chalked up a huge first half lead.
The South Armagh side, despite receiving an early rattle from St Peter’s in their semi-final held their nerve to win by six points at the finish and it could also be said that Cullaville were strong favourites for last year’s title which was won by Newtownhamilton.
Crossmaglen’s huge surface will test the fitness of both sides on Sunday, the Hoops will be without the services of utility player Paul Hughes who is serving a suspension, yet encouraged by the fact that they carry no serious injury concerns into the showpiece game.
Patsy Donnelly rested Patrick Stevenson, Brian Lavery and both Mark and Johnny Reynolds for last Sunday’s derby against Clan na Gael and it would not be a major surprise if all four started against Cullaville.
The Hoops, whose wing backs will bomb down the flanks at every opportunity may need to provide extra defensive cover against Cullaville who play a one-touch style of football where forwards are continuously on the move.
The Sarsfields management will be hoping that the occasion does not affect some of the team’s younger players but, in considering this, it could be recalled that their centre-full back in the 1969 Intermediate final, Joe Scullion, was still a minor and had played for the county team in the four previous seasons.
In 1969, Sarsfields ironically were managed by Felix John Donnelly, brother of current manager Patsy. The team was captained by Myles Scullion and contained real stars in Eddie Moore, Kevin Stevenson, Malachy Skelton and Eamon O’Neill, many of whom went on to play senior inter-county football for Armagh.
Whilst the modern day Sarsfields management, who have a relatively strong bench, will be faced with the dilemma of giving youth its day or choosing an experienced lineout, a special emphasis may have to be placed on defensive duties with last year’s Armagh Minor talent Niall Rowland breaking from deep to feed possibly a dangerous full-forward duo of Kieran Hatzer and Gerard Callan.
Although the talented Armagh Senior player Colm Watters has missed the entire club season through injury, Johnny McGeeney; Cullaville’s playmaker and centre-half forward, will need to be well policed on the day.
Ironically, one of Sarsfields most attack-minded players, Paul McGaughey has started at centre-half back in recent league games. Paul Magee could have found his ideal role at centre back and although Mark Reynolds could again be the lynchpin which holds the entire Sarsfields game together, new heroes may have to step up to the plate if the favourites are to be floored at Crossmaglen.
Both Paul McGeown and Colin Stevenson have the vigour of youth on their sides and although Richard Stevenson’s accuracy from frees and predatory instincts in front of goals could see him being the focal point of their attack, the Hoops will need to at least break even around midfield to give themselves a fighting chance.
Merited victories against both Keady and Silverbridge will need to be bettered against Cullaville on Sunday and should Sarsfields be victorious, their young side which was initially nurtured by Kieran McGurk, Sean McGeown and Eamon Murray will have answered all the big questions which have been asked of them since their pride was dented during a division three campaign back in 2007.
A victory for Cullaville, however, cannot be taken for granted and whilst one off Championship games have a life of their own, a victory on Sunday can breathe new life into a forward thinking club driven by an ambition to fight their way back to the top by emulating past glories but this team must write their own chapter.