Quarter final spot up for grabs in Crossmaglen

With the final round of the group stages being played over the weekend it’s hard to look past the repeat of last year’s county final as the game of the week. This has the potential to be an absolute cracker of a contest if the two teams can produce a performance similar to the one they shared just under 12 months ago.

The prize this time around is entrance into the quarter final while the losing team will have to battle through a playoff game to make the last eight. Neither side will be worrying about playoffs once the ball is in the air come two o’clock on Sunday as both teams look to lay down a marker with the potential of locking horns once again further down the line.

It’s the forward division on both sides that presents the biggest attraction as some of the county’s top attackers will be on show and this game could come down to a shootout if last year’s final is anything to go by, as both sides favour an open attacking brand of football with early direct ball into the attacking unit the main tactic.

Rian O’Neill shot the lights out during his debut season for Armagh and with the young full forward a shoo-in for an Irish News Ulster All-Star, he will take some watching from the Nab defence. Ryan Kennedy is sure to follow O’Neill’s every move and Ballymacnab’s go to man marker also excelled during his first championship run for Armagh before injury cut his campaign short.

Kennedy’s first start after returning from injury came in his sides demolition of Clann Eireann and the full back will look forward to the prospect of lining up against one of the top forwards in the county. O’Neill and Kennedy are sure to serve up a ding-dong battle that will be worth the admission fee alone and could ultimately decide the game. 

O’Neill isn’t the only threat to the Ballymacnab defence as youngster Cian McConville has shrugged off his ‘super sub’ tag that served him well last season and he will occupy a spot in the full forward line. Mel Boyce will be alongside him and his two goals against Clann Eireann are an indication of the hand full he could be on the edge of the square. 

Ballymacnab boast their own deadly forward line with Jack Grugan untouchable when the sides last met in the championship. With James Morgan sidelined for the remainder of the season, it’s hard to pin-point a full back in the black and amber who can curtail Grugan’s influence should he hit top form.

Gavin McParland will be his partner in crime in the full forward line and he has been in fine goal-scoring form so far during the championship, hitting the net on three occasions in his last two outings and he will most likely be shadowed by Rico Kelly who will relish the physical battle.

While Cross will look to prevent goal scoring opportunities to a potent forward division, the Nab’s half forward line will also have to be mindful of Aaron Kernan’s play making attributes from his wing half back position. His ability to control the tempo of the game as well as his distribution skills are a vital asset to Crossmaglen’s forward play.

The midfield battle will also be key; Crossmaglen dominated this sector in last year’s decider with Oisin O’Neill and Stephen Morris being assisted by Johnny Hanratty so their net minder Tiernan McConville will have plenty of targets to hit while Rory Grugan and Paul Meegan will look to deny Crossmaglen primary possession around the centre of the park.

All in all this bout can whet the appetite for the knock out games that will follow in the coming weeks and neither team will want to give an inch in the fear of the physiological advantage it will award the winner should they meet later on. Ballymacnab will top the group if the sides are tied after the hour and the draw is most certainly a possible outcome. 

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