GAA Editor @BrianGBarry
Crossmaglen: Success breeds success as Armagh club embark on Ulster campaign
Last Updated: 01/11/19 3:54pm
There's a culture of success in Crossmaglen. Between 1996 and 2015, they won 19 Armagh Senior Football Championships in 20 years. They are in the business of winning county titles, and after a two-year wobble in 2016 and 2017, business is booming once again.
However, with such a track record, pressure can be heaped on the younger generation who come in to take up the mantle. But on the other hand, the gauntlet laid down is one which they relish.
"I think it's a good thing personally," opined Oliver O'Neill. "It's up to us as a lot of younger players on the team now to continue on with the tradition of people that went before us.
"In 2016 and 2017, we didn't win our county championship and that hurt a lot of the younger boys on our team, especially. The last couple of seasons, we've been really happy with how we're developing and creating a new team."
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From a young age, the current crop became accustomed to watching the Crossmaglen team routinely secure county, provincial and even All-Ireland titles.
"Growing up, we have a saying in Crossmaglen that it's a short winter when you're competing in the Ulster Club Championship, especially when you can be lucky enough and be successful in it," recounted O'Neill.
"All I can remember is nights whenever the team has been successful and coming back to the club and to the hall and our whole town being there, and it being a really great occasion.
"We had a good occasion [after the county final last week], so hopefully in a couple of weeks, we might be able to have another one."
And such a legacy of success stands to the side when the going gets tough.
"We have a lot of big characters on our team," he added. "We always say, when the going gets tough, it's time for those big players to stand up. That's been the same since 96, 97 when Cross first became successful.
"Every night we go to training, we're all practising our skills, trying to make our skills better. We've put a lot of emphasis on that in the past couple of seasons, trying to develop our basic skills so we're better than most teams we play against.
"Our system of play, especially as a forward, you know there's always someone looking to try and give you the ball which is always a really good thing."
"We have a saying in Crossmaglen that it's a short winter when you're competing in the Ulster Club Championship"
They're back where they want to be
Fresh from another county title, focus switches firmly to their Ulster campaign - a title they haven't won since 2015.
In their way stand a star-studded Clontibret team, stacked with talent including Monaghan sharpshooter Conor McManus.
'Cross' aren't expecting to get anything easy.
"It will be a battle," O'Neill noted. "Clontibret are a really good side. Any team with the likes of Conor McManus, Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey, it's going to be a tight game."
And undoubtedly the standout narrative heading into the tie is the presence of a certain John McEntee on the opposition sideline.
A five-time All-Ireland winner with Crossmaglen, and a central figure in Armagh's Sam Maguire success in 2002, McEntee entered management after his playing career. Indeed, he subsequently took over his native club, and even handed Oliver O'Neill his senior debut.
Since then, he's moved onto pastures new and is plotting the Armagh champs' downfall on Saturday evening.
"John Mc is a legend in our club. We're wishing him well before the game," O'Neill smiled.
"But he'll have his job to do, we'll have our job to do, all we can do is worry about ourselves.
"We might be able to use [his familiarity with Crossmaglen] that against John maybe. We might be able to do something different that he maybe might not have seen from us this season. Hopefully that'll be enough to get us over the line."
For many clubs, a county title is a successful season. For Crossmaglen, it's the bare minimum, and O'Neill and Co. hope Saturday evening is the beginning of a long winter campaign.
"We enjoyed our county title win," he concluded. "But training has went well since and we're looking forward to the challenge that Clontibret will present us and hopefully we'll be able to get over the line."