Match ups are a vital part of the modern game and could go a long way in deciding this years Armagh Championship Final. In this preview we take a look at how both teams may line out and who picks up who with both sides containing awesome forwards that will take some minding.
Cross to go on the defensive?
In a recent interview with the Gaelic Life, Crossmaglen manager Kieran Donnelly made an interesting comment about his sides’ victory over Silverbridge in the quarter final, “you can play free-flowing football but you’ll be caught out, our policy was to play real tight. Defensively keep the scores down as best we could and I think they did an excellent job.”
With no disrespect towards Silverbridge, they do not possess the same firepower that the Cross defence will face this Sunday. Jack Grugan has scored a goal in every championship game for Ballymacnab apart from their semi final win over Granemore, while Gavin McParland has been equally impressive throughout the championship.
The Rangers will need no reminding of Grugan’s quality as in last years’ showpiece, he struck 1-6 of his side’s 1-15. Alan Farrelly struggled massively with Grugan’s movement that day and was moved off him with James Morgan going into the full back position.
Morgan is of course out injured while Farrelly has played with number nine on his back during this years’ championship, playing as a defensive minded midfielder who constantly gets back to help the Cross regard. Rico Kelly could see himself pinned against Grugan but this then raises the question of who marks Gavin McParland.
McParland showcased his physical threat the last day out against Granemore and although he only scored once, he caused the Granemore defence serious problems with his strength and power, constantly drawing frees. Kelly seems to be the most suitable match with McParland leaving Farrelly the only man for Grugan on the edge of the square.
The architect of Ballymacnab’s attack is of course the Armagh captain Rory Grugan, who will most likely line out at centre half forward to pull the strings for his side. Paul Hughes was the man detailed to mark Grugan when these sides met in the earlier rounds of the championship and could be given the same job on Sunday.
Hughes is a decent man marker but has made a name for himself as an attacking wing half back that will constantly break up the field and can take a score. This could be part Crossmaglen’s plan, to allow Hughes to break up the field on the counter and drag Grugan out of position.
In doing so the Rangers will leave the centre of their defence free but as highlighted in the picture below, Farrelly retreating from the centre of the park will leave Callum Cumiskey to sweep in front of Jack Grugan while also covering the number six position should Paul Hughes venture further forward.
The Cross defence deserves huge credit for getting their side to the final as against Silverbridge they scored 1-9 of their 1-15 from turnovers while similarly striking 2-8 of their 2-9 from turnovers against Maghery in their semi final victory so Ballymacnab will be well aware of the counter attacking threat Crossmaglen pose.
Crossmaglen certainly came out on top of the midfield battle 12 months ago and will expect to do so this weekend although interestingly, both teams will start with a different goalkeeper than they did last year. Rian O’Neill has been pulled out to the centre of the field with his brother Oisin and Stephen Morris there for company. As stated above, Alan Farrelly is another option in midfield if not played further back.
Ryan Kennedy is the Nabs go-to man marker and the full back would be as comfortable in the centre of the park where he will line up against Rian O’Neill. Kennedy also provides his team with great pace and O’Neill may not fancy tracking back when Ballymacnab are in possession of the ball.
Pauric Gribben and Stephen Morris will go toe-to-toe in what could be the most even pairing on the field. Both men have powerful leaps and great hands so this could lead to them possibly cancelling each other out. Paul Meegan will add a physical edge to the middle eight for Ballymacnab as his one game suspension has been served.
Oisin O’Neill lines out at centre half forward but in truth could be found anywhere across the field. One of the hardest working players in the black and amber, O’Neill is likely to get back and help out his defence if called upon and could also drift into the edge of the square as he did against Maghery.
Ruairi Gribben also has an appetite for work and will most likely be called upon to pick up Crossmaglen’s most in form player. The O’Neill brothers like to spread the ball and will look to hit Cian McConville who is usually isolated inside. Ciaran Connelly has been fantastic for The Round Towers this year and could pick up McConville.
Cross attack vs Nab defence
This leads us to Crossmaglen’s forward division and as we know, McConville will be inside but Cross have so many options if he needs assistance. Either one of the O’Neill’s could head to the edge of the square while Cross can also call upon Johnny Hanratty, Kyle Carragher or Tony Kernan from the substitute bench.
Mel Boyce is likely to start closest to McConville and with Ryan Kennedy out the field shadowing Rian O’Neill; Cormac Gribben is the only physical match in the Nab defence to track Mel Boyce. Gribben was fantastic in centre-field against Granemore so it will be interesting to see where he lines out.
With Morris moving to midfield and Cross possibly playing with some defensive cover this will allow Michael Beagan to play the sweeper role which is tailor made for the Ballymacnab captain. Beagan was outstanding in the role against Granemore and his reading of the play allows him to fit into the sweeper position perfectly.
Johnny McKeever and Colin O’Connor are two workers who can take scores and McKeever has particularly improved from this same fixture one year ago. Jemmy Gray could play in his more favourable wing half back spot or is another option to halt Cian McConville’s influence on proceedings.