Last season was the first time Barry Shannon felt the elation of winning a championship title, having played in six previous finals, two of which came in 2020.
Forkhill had to undergo a replay and extra time before eventually seeing off Belleek, and Shannon finally got his hands on that elusive championship medal.
Coming through the underage ranks there was little or no football in Forkhill so Shannon, along with a few others, headed to Dromintee.
It was during his senior playing days with Dromintee that the schoolteacher suffered some of his hardest footballing days.
He helped the South Armagh side reach their first ever senior decider in 2001, along with another four appearances on the biggest day in the ten years that followed.
No team were forced to endure the Crossmaglen dominance that overshadowed the Armagh championship quite like Dromintee.
In all five of their decider appearances (’01,’02,’03, ’05,’10) they faced Cross, and it was the Rangers that triumphed on all occasions.
Shannon recalls those games and laments the unfortunate situation of Dromintee’s finest coming along at the same time as Crossmaglen.
“Crossmaglen were the team at the time, they were probably one of the best team ever. It’s just unfortunate we came along at the same time, we’d a really, really strong team.
Some of them games could have gone either way, maybe not the first one but definitely the ’02, ’03, ’05, 2010 could have went either way”.
“They always seemed to have that wee bit extra, maybe bring on a sub or two which made a difference in the last couple of minutes when the game opened up a wee bit. It made that difference to get them over the line”.
One of the standout performers of that time, not only in Armagh but in Ireland, was Crossmaglen sharp-shooter Oisin McConville.
It was Shannon who quite often lined up next to McConville, tasked with the daunting job of limiting the All-Ireland winners influence.
“Having played against him many, many times, he was the man to get that crucial score when you really, really needed it. Either to get you back into the game or get you out of a hole towards the end of the game. He was that real clutch player.
I probably marked Oisin in most of those finals and the one thing about Oisin was you could never feel comfortable around Oisin. You might think you had him closed out of the game, but as soon as you thought that he would turn and kick a point from 50 yards”.
“That could be the one that would get the crowd risen, that would kick Cross on and get them over the line or he might kick a sideline ball, kick it over the bar or he might kick a penalty.
He was just that player at the end of the game and Cross knew that if they got the ball to Oisin in those crucial periods… most of them games bar the first game against Cross in 2001, all the rest of the games were the exact same”.
“They all came down to the last five minutes and generally Oisin was the one that was the difference in those last five minutes. Most of the time I was on the end of Oisin getting Cross across the line unfortunately”.
The 40-year-old remarked that McConville was the toughest player he had ever faced, and his approach to taking the assignment was never the same.
“Probably the one that had the most impact would be Oisin, there’s no doubt about that. The fact that he beat us in so many county finals, semi-finals, first round replays, all of them. That was the difference in Dromintee maybe winning, going on further in things.
He was just at that level; he was the ultimate clutch player at the end of games where he could just do something ridiculous, and you’d just be shaking your head at the end of it. You just had to hold your hands up and have full respect for that”.
“Every game’s different I suppose, you’re just hoping that he maybe has an off day, or you’d just try to do things that would put him off slightly that you didn’t do the previous year.
I remember a semi-final one year where he kicked a sideline ball to get them a point up in Carrickcruppen.
He’d just do things like that, it could be a free kick, or he might win a ball and slip to somebody that would bag it and put it in the back of the net, he just had that X-factor that most people didn’t have”.
While Dromintee and Crossmaglen shared such an intense club rivalry at the time, Shannon insists that feud didn’t carry into the county changing rooms.
Paul Hearty, Francie Bellew and Oisin McConville were the black and amber heroes that made Shannon’s Dream Team, and he shared the changing room with many of the Cross stars.
“When you went out with Armagh it was a different story all together. Them boys were superb footballers in their own right, you can’t take it away from them.
We could never get over the line, they were always just that slight bit better than us. As hard as it was to take at the time, probably looking back on it now, we had a very good team at that time with Dromintee and we just couldn’t get there”.