Senior Championship Final Preview

History has been the topic of conversation in the GAA world this year, as Dublin ventured towards immortality with their ‘5 in a row’ charge. For the last 12 months, history has linked 2019 with 1982, as this was the last time such a mission was undertaken. This Sunday, Ballymacnab can take inspiration from history and 1982 can be at the forefront of their minds as this was the last time Crossmaglen lost an Armagh Senior Championship Final.

In 1982, Carrickcruppen were crowned champions, winning a low scoring affair, 0-6 to 0-4, but since then Crossmaglen have went on to win 22 county titles, dominating the club scene in Armagh while their most recent triumph came last season against the same opposition standing in their way this weekend.

Surrounded in history forever is the Crossmaglen name and as they aim to secure their 45th championship crown the favourites tag will be of no problem to them. The question is whether or not it will be an issue for Ballymacnab. If The Round Towers are to upset the odds and write their own legacy they will have to put aside the fact that it’s Crossmaglen they face and ‘play the game rather than the occasion’.

Thoughts of last year’s final returned when we knew this year’s pairing, and there can be no dispute that Ballymacnab matched Crossmaglen all over the field that day and for long periods The Round Towers were the better team. They haven’t hit the form that secured their league title last year but they are in the final on merit and will not fear their opponents on Sunday.

Of course Cross have quality spread throughout their team but this ‘new’ team has failed to dominate the Armagh championship in the way we have become accustomed to, not making the showpiece in both 2016 and 2017. While their talent is unquestionable the main men are now the O’Neill’s, Stephen Morris and Cian McConville, who are all still very young to carry the burden of history on their shoulders

Raring to go from the sidelines will be the experienced heads in the Crossmaglen team. In their semi final victory over Maghery, Kyle Carragher, Johnny Hanratty, Tony Kernan and Paul McKeown all entered the fray from the bench and their experience and quality could be the difference between the two sides if it’s tight heading into the final quarter.

You can be sure Ballymacnab will not be happy with just competing in successive Senior Championship Finals, but they have created their own history in doing so, as the club has only been a senior ranked team for 12 years. This is their 3rd ever Senior Final and the previous two times they have of course fell to the might of the Rangers.

Making history was a box ticked for Bernie Murray’s men in 2018 when they won their first ever Senior League title. Along the journey they met and beat Crossmaglen twice. In round six of the league a confident and unbeaten Ballymacnab travelled to South Armagh and left with the two points on offer, winning 0-18 to 2-11. The same margin separated the sides on the final game of the league when Ballymacnab triumphed 0-15 to 1-11.

An interesting stat from those two results was that Ballymacnab showed they could outscore Cross and didn’t need goals to do so, outscoring them 18 to 13 and 15 to 12 across the two games. But since that historic day Ballymacnab have met Crossmaglen four times and on four occasions they have came out the wrong side of the result, twice in the championship, and failed to get within six points of the reigning champions.

Keeping with the recent tradition of the Armagh Championship, it appears that Cross have got to grips with a flourishing young ‘upstart’ trying to steal their crown, just as they did with Dromintee, Pearse Ogs and Maghery over the past two decades. But times change and so has the Crossmaglen team so Ballymacnab will feel they can challenge the current crop of black and amber heroes. 

Every time Crossmaglen hit the field on County Final day they are expected to win and the bookies odds reflect the anticipation of a Cross victory. In a two horse race, it’s surprising that Cross are such heavy favourites with Ballymacnab certainly the best team to match them within the Orchard County.  

Really it all comes down to the day. On Sunday, 15 Ballymacnab men will square off with 15 Crossmaglen men and when the ball is in the air history will go out the window and not return until the final whistle, whether it’s Michael Beagan or Aaron Kernan making the journey towards the trophy is still unclear.

Suggesting a winner may be easy for the bookies but based on last year’s final Ballymacnab stand as good a chance as ever of completing their hat-trick of Armagh Championship titles. An open and free flowing game is expected and it will be a cracker if both teams can reach their potential. The result, and history, should be still up in the air entering the final few moments of the contests with an upset not beyond Ballymacnab.  

Thank you to O’Toole’s Bar and Restaurant, Egg and Nanny Hughes Pizzeria for sponsoring the Senior Championship Final Preview!