Clash of the Champions

Crossmaglen retained their championship crown last season with a 6 point win over Ballymacnab to lift the title for the first time since 2015, which is a famine in Crossmaglen given their dominance of the club scene in Armagh over the past 20 plus years. While they were on sabbatical, Maghery nipped in and earned their first ever Senior Championship crown in 2016 after Cross had been put aside at the semi final stage by Cullyhanna.

Maghery came bursting out of the traps at the start of this year and Finnian Moriarty’s men were keen to lay down a marker early on in the league. 11 wins later Maghery clenched the Division 1A title with two impressive victories over Crossmaglen coming along the way, while suffering just three defeats during their league campaign.

The last time these side met this late in the year was two seasons ago and to defeat Cross once in the Championship is a serious achievement; but to beat them twice in the same year is unheard of. That was the situation back in 2017 when Maghery overcame their opponents in round two of the championship before knocking them out at the semi final stage.

Stephen Cusack led the charge that day and given his performance the last day out, Cusack is beginning to hit top form once again. Brian Fox was another who shone two weeks ago as he had a hand to play in both goal’s, scoring the all important three pointer at the end of the game.

Stefan Forker presents a different threat than he has in previous years, as he has been situated in a deeper role this season and plays off the counter attack. Paul Hughes could push up on Forker and the nippy wing half back is likely to glide up the field for a few scores. Aidan Forker rotates between a play marker role and full forward so it’s likely that Callum Cumiskey will go toe to toe with him and attempt to halt his influence on the game.

Rico Kelly will look forward to the physical battle presented by big Brian McIllmurray at full forward, who was in fantastic form against Cullyhanna, ending the contest with 1-3 to his name. The midfield battle will be fascinating to watch with the likes of the O’Neill brothers and Stephen Morris clashing heads with James Lavery, Ben Crealey and Ciaran Higgins. Both goal keepers like to get their restarts as far from their own nets as possible so it will be a battle to win primary possession in the middle third.

Rian O’Neill has played in the centre of the field all championship and with such a physical encounter expected, it’s unlikely he’ll move further forward unless called upon. Up front Cian McConville continues to improve and could face a physical battle of his own if Oisin Lappin should line up beside him, with Higgins going to centre half back to curtail Oisin O’Neill’s influence.

With all the tactical switches and likely match ups, one thing is for sure, Maghery never fear their South Armagh rivals and Saturday night will be not different, whether or not they have the quality to beat Cross is another question. The bookies have The Rangers as clear favourites but if Maghery can limit the threat of the O’Neill brothers it is not beyond their reach to cause an upset and book their place in this year’s showpiece.  

A big thank you to Egg and Nanny Hughes Pizzeria for sponsoring today’s preview!