No longer Cross words between Armagh and its greatest club

The tradition of honoring silver jubilee All-Ireland senior winning teams at Croke Park is set to return this July. Although can you say for certain all of Clare’s 1997 team will line out alongside each other on the Croke Park sod?

A pioneering team like that great Banner group, it’s Armagh’s turn in five years and among them there have been differences too. Not just political – corner-back and SDLP candidate for Newry and Armagh Justin McNulty won’t be able to count on every eligible team-mate’s vote in Thursday week’s local elections.

Those contrasts can be shrugged off. Others linger, longer than the Brian Lohan-Davy Fitzgerald frictions, back to the belief in a corner or two of the Armagh dressing room that the pursuits of Crossmaglen in their pomp were taking precedence over the county’s. To Joe Kernan’s decision to take off captain and current manager Kieran McGeeney in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tyrone. To Paul Grimley not becoming Kernan’s successor.

Sources say most hatchets have been buried but one glaring statistic suggests otherwise. Fifteen years since Kernan stepped down, no Crossmaglen Rangers man has been part of a senior Armagh management since.

Cross’ may not be the almighty force that prompted former Armagh captain Jarlath Burns to suggest they should simply be crowned champions by default and represent the county in the Ulster senior championship, the rest of the senior teams in the county play for intermediate honors. Still, 10 of the last 15 championships have gone their way along with two All-Irelands and four Ulster titles.

As a coach to the county’s U20s, Cross’ Oisín McConville has liaised with his old colleague McGeeney but it’s the closest the senior manager has come to working with somebody from the club. “Nobody has really put themselves forward in a massive way,” says McConville of those from the club.

“The first names that spring to mind are John and Tony (McEntee). They would respect that Geezer is there. Tony has been with Mayo as a selector and Sligo now as manager and there is probably a natural progression for a job like Armagh but he respects who is there. ”

Known for his loyalty, McGeeney in his eight seasons in charge has plumped for other old Armagh teammates to be his assistants, such as Martin McQuillan, Paul McGrane, Paddy McKeever, Aidan O’Rourke and current coach and selector Ciarán McKeever.

John McEntee senses no snub from his friend. “Joe was the first Armagh manager from Cross’ in a very long time. There is no expected right or entitlement to be in the management set-up. We are a pretty strong county when it comes to quality coaches, I would suggest. It’s up to the management to choose who they want.

“Cross’ for a long time were the dominant club team. Had there been an issue between the club and the county, you might have wanted to bring a club member on board. But the fact that wasn’t a particular issue meant people had free rein to choose who they wanted. ”

Neither is there a strong feeling in Crossmaglen that McGeeney should be picking more than the four players from the club he has in the panel – the O’Neills Oisín and Rian, James Morgan and Paul Hughes should all feature on tomorrow’s matchday panel against Donegal.

In 2016, several Cross’ players left the panel for a variety of reasons although it was claimed they had fallen out with McGeeney. Rumors that he and the club’s maverick Jamie Clarke didn’t see eye-to-eye were firmly put to bed by the player. He was heading Stateside as was Hughes.

However, players ‘extended commitments to Cross’ has been known to irk some outside the club. At that time, Cross’ were coming off a run to an All-Ireland semi-final, two steps shy of their third Andy Merrigan Cup in six years. Their winter exploits may have been interpreted as getting in the way.

“The relationship between the club and the county is fine,” insists McEntee. “We would have a good working relationship and always had done even before ’02. We trained with our club and with our county and compromises had to be made. So it has been strong.

“The perception that some people have of the relationship would be different. That perhaps we could have given more to the county than we did. The reality was we could give everything we possibly could to do football, it just happened to be spread across club and county. ”

Without a Gerry Fagan Cup since 2019 and their last Ulster title coming seven years ago, Cross’ haven’t been disrupting things as some previously considered they had.

Tomorrow McGeeney looks to lead Armagh to a first championship win over Donegal in 12 years. For now at least, the peace is not uneasy.

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