It’s been a long time coming for Clan na Gael, but they are finally back among the big hitters of Armagh club football.
Diarmaid Marsden led his team to Intermediate Championship glory last season in convincing fashion.
They stumbled over Shane O’Neill’s early on, but that proved to be the only speed bump in a comfortable campaign.
A ten-point win in the decider secured their position in the Senior grade for the first time since 2012.
That was for championship only however. Covid-19 forced the leagues to be suspended, finally finishing this summer, with the Lurgan men spending extra time in Division 2A.
Not ideal preparation for the blues, who take on the kingpins of Armagh club football Crossmaglen in the preliminary round of the Senior Championship.
There’s a strong history linking the two clubs, dating back to the 60’s and 70’s. More recently they faced off in the 2006 final, the last time Clans reached the senior decider.
Stephen Kernan kicked two points that day, half of Marsden’s tally, and the two will be involved from the line this weekend.
Crossmaglen head into the campaign as wounded animals, having lost their crown to Maghery last year, while chasing three in a row.
They will be out to prove a point this season and will be carrying that hurt with them. If they are to get over this one, they will do so without the talismanic midfielder Oisin O’Neill, who misses out through injury.
The younger of the O’Neill brothers, Rian, will be at the centre of Clan na Gaels plans as they must stop his influence to have any chance.
Aaron Kernan is on the hunt for a 17th senior medal and remains an important figure for the Rangers.
Captain Stephen Morris will lead from the middle while Cian McConville and Dara O’Callaghan are the main scoring threats.
Clan na Gael have loads of talent in their ranks, none more so than Armagh skipper Stefan Campbell.
His battle with county teammate James Morgan could be fascinating. ‘Soupy’ will have to be on top of his game to give the Clans a fighting chance.
Niall Henderson and Jamie Brady picked up club All-Stars for their 2020 heroics and will be main men this weekend.
Shane McPartland has been operating at midfield this year and has the footballing ability to mix it with anyone.
Sunday’s encounter could be a cagey affair as Clan na Gael look to keep the score down, particularly early on.
Madden face Sunday’s winners and barring a major surprise, the Raparees will be preparing for Crossmaglen in the next round.