Kieran Donnelly will this weekend share the sideline with a “legend” as his Crossmaglen side commence battle with Clontibret in the opening round of the Ulster Club Championship on Saturday evening in the Athletic Grounds. John McEntee will be the man leading the charges for the Monaghan men and plotting the downfall of his home town team.
“John Mac, he’s a legend in Cross and there’s no point in me saying John Mac won’t know anything about us; he knows our team in and out. The McEntee’s are a massive family around Crossmaglen, and Tony and John are very well respected so we’ll prepare properly as if we’re playing anybody else. John McEntee won’t be playing on the pitch, he’s the manager, he’ll know all about us but then that’s up to us to adjust and produce a game plan that gets us over the line”.
Now that Cross have been crowned county champions they can look forward to the next task that lies ahead, but Donnelly maintains his men enjoy winning the Armagh title, “People have this myth round Cross that we don’t enjoy championships because we won too many, we don’t put flags out, we don’t celebrate, we’ll celebrate like anybody else. We love winning championships and we work so hard to get there so we’ll celebrate”.
Donnelly was delighted to get his side over the line against Ballymacnab, with the men in black and amber trailing by five points with 20 minutes left to play. A powerful second half ensured that the Gerry Fegan Cup would be returning to the South Armagh club for the 45th time, “Like any dressing room at half time we re-grouped”.
“We hadn’t played well in the first half and that was total respect to Ballymacnab, they put a game plan in place and we didn’t react to it. We just made sure the players did their jobs and started playing to their potential and what we had set in place for them to play and when they crossed that line after half time, we could do no more”.
Donnelly explained his sides’ adaptability and how they changed their game plan in the second half, “We paired off a few different pairings, and we changed a wee bit. We left Cian McConville in the full forward line on his own and kicked balls into him (first half), it was 2 v 1 which wasn’t our idea, so we played with a two man full forward line (second half), we made sure we got good ball in, in front and we ran at them”.
“We started running the ball and carrying the ball the way we can play the ball. Basically we just done in the second half what we should have done in the first half, we just re-grouped. Young players and old just realised that they hadn’t done what they’re expected to, they set the standard in Cross”.
“They knew what level they had to be at and so in the second half, in that period, the Nab scored another goal and it left us chasing the game again but, for me, I just saw total composure from various players on that pitch, young and old, who realised they had to win. They had to start getting the ball and doing the right things and that period of 10 or 15 minutes was a joy to watch”.
While Cross tallied up an “impressive” 2-18, Donnelly was pleased with the defensive side of their game as well, “We probably had that problem last year but we tried to address that this year and sometimes people say we play very open, we’ve tried to go, not defensively but if we don’t look at that we’re foolish. We have to be able to turn the game round at certain times and play different ways”.
“We can be arrogant and just play our way but that doesn’t work anymore. You have to be able to do different things in different games and different opposition, we’re going that road defensively but we’re delighted for our backs. I suppose two goals weren’t what we wanted but when they tightened the whole thing up, the forwards got more confidence and we started getting the scores. To kick 2-18 in a county final is impressive”.