Maghery vs Crossmaglen – Sunday 17th July – 2pm
As far as starts to the year go, Crossmaglen have been drawn the short straw and face three big test over the next couple of weeks.
After taking on current league title holders Maghery, Ballymacnab and Armagh Harps follow in round two and three.
It’s complementary to Crossmaglen’s powers that they will head into all three games as favourites. Not huge favourites, but favourites none the less.
2019 marked a special season for both the Rangers and Sunday’s opponents Maghery, who topped the table with outstanding league form to bring home silverware in Finnian Moriarty’s first year donning the bainisteoir bib.
This time, it’s Crossmaglen who are under new management, with former All-Ireland winning captain Stephen Kernan taking over from Kieran Donnelly.
And what a game for Kernan to be thrown into. Facing Maghery away from home is no easy task, especially with the year that’s in it.
Last season, Maghery failed to drop a single point when playing with home advantage until the final game of the competition once the league title had already been collected.
Maghery’s outstanding league form included two victories over their rivals, winning 4-13 to 2-12 (away) and 3-12 to 1-10 (at home).
The Rangers did come strong once championship season came calling, as we have come accustomed to, and captured their second county title in a row, seeing off Maghery along the way.
That semi-final tie has surely given the Maghery men sleepless nights since they bowed out without offering up any stiff opposition.
A single point was all they could muster up in the opening 30 minutes of action and while they improved in the second half, the damage had been done.
Oisin O’Neill ran riot and Maghery will have him earmarked as one to watch when planning their match ups for Sunday’s encounter.
The problem is, there are so many ‘ones to watch’ lining out in the famous black and amber and the younger O’Neill brother, Rian, is top of the list.
Two man of the match performances in the previous two county finals and three club All-Stars in a row, it is clear Rian O’Neill is perhaps the most consistent club player in the county.
And he has taken to the county game with little or no fuss.
The O’Neill brothers could equally play any position from midfield up and with the ‘advanced marked’ coming into play, one if not both could spend a lot of time further forward.
James Lavery has been Maghery’s go to man in the centre of the park for years now and will once again lead the charge this weekend.
The Forker’s have been crucial to Maghery’s success and will continue to be key figures this season.
Perhaps we will see Aidan Forker given a man-marking role this year, as he has excelled in this duty while playing for Armagh.
Whatever happens on Sunday, it’s sure to be a cracker as both sides will look to get off to a flyer.
Home advantage could just shade the tie, as Maghery look to retain their league title with a strong opener.