Armagh SFC semi-final
Killeavy v Crossmaglen
(Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 5.30pm)
KILLEAVY player Ronan McGuinness is well used to the big stage. As part of the famed Rooney-O’Malley-Maguire Dancing School in south Armagh, the utility player has performed in major events across Ireland and even has a World title to his name after winning a reel event.
On Sunday evening, the player will head to the Athletic Grounds as the Killeavy club move to their own big stage as they prepare for their first Senior Championship semi-final appearance in 14 years when they face up to holders Crossmaglen Rangers.
Despite still only being 20, McGuinness has emerged as a key cog in this emerging St Moninna’s side as his power, pace and accuracy has ensured that he can play anywhere in the middle eight. For the player, his energy owes a lot to his Irish dancing days.
“I have been dancing since I was four or five years of age and it really helps with my overall fitness on the pitch,” said McGuinness, whose girlfriend Aine Malone is currently on tour with Lord of the Dance.
“Both of them, dancing and football, are high intensity sports so they work really well together in terms of stamina and flexibility.
“I’ve won a number of things in dancing including my reel at the Worlds. I have a few seconds and thirds at the Ulsters and we have also been very successful with team dancing throughout the years.”
The heavy shoes have been put in storage for the time being though with the football boots taking over, and that, McGuinness hopes, will be the case for a few weeks yet.
The task facing Neil Coulter’s side needs little explanation given the opposition, but the bulk of this young Killeavy side has competed with Cross the whole way up.
“Crossmaglen have always, and always will be, a brilliant club and they are obviously very successful,” he continued.
“We have played them many times over the years and it’s always a brilliant challenge to play against the best club in Ireland with all of their achievements. We are delighted to be in this position even though Cross probably have the advantage over us as they are in this position every year, but we are excited for the challenge.
An extra-time victory over Grange and a comfortable winning margin against Armagh Harps has ensured that Killeavy are down to the last four for the first time since 2006.
Raymie Teggart is the only survivor from the side that lost narrowly to Clan na Gael at Abbey Park. A few hours later in the other semi-final, Cross edged past Dromintee and since then have lost just four county championship games.
McGuinness, however, is hopeful that the team can play to their potential and after that, who knows?
“This is the first time in 14 years that Killeavy have made it to the semi-final of a Senior Championship so it is very exciting and a brilliant achievement for the club.
“I played on the team that won the Intermediate Championship in 2017 as well as winning league titles and some underage medals along with many of the other lads that now also play on the senior team. It’s great to see the club getting that wee bit of success.”
By Niall McCoy
Armagh SFC semi-final
Pearse Óg v Maghery
(Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 7pm)
THE spirit of 2009 is very much alive in the current Pearse Óg side, but team captain Paul Duffy has said that change is coming.
Shane McConville’s side come up against Maghery in Saturday’s semi-final – a fine subplot on its own – and the Armagh city men will have plenty of players who have been here, and done it too.
The club’s last final appearance came in 2012 and their last title three years previous to that – a fact recalled in great detail on pages 20 and 21 of this week’s Gaelic Life.
Six of the starting side from their 2009 win over rivals Armagh Harps are still on board and likely to play this weekend.
Team captain Duffy, his younger brother Anto, Chris Rafferty, Gerard Barton, Conor Clarke and Marc Cullen make up the sextet, and with the exception of the younger Duffy sibling, they are all nearing retirement time.
Duffy said that he hopes that they still have something to give this season, but he also said that he knows that younger, fitter and faster players are close to putting his position under threat.
“There was talk about retirements and that there but when Shane came in as manager, they said they’d give it another shot.
“It’s the young boys coming through that are driving us on though. We know what’s behind us and we’re all begging that they take our positions as soon as possible.
“It’s a thin line and they are that good that it’s only a matter of time before they do.”
Much of the pre-match build-up will focus on Óg’s manager McConville who guided Maghery to their one and only Senior title back in 2016.
Duffy has said that his arrival in Ballycrummy before the 2019 season has really rejuvenated the senior team.
“This last three or four years, prior to Shane coming in, we didn’t know where we were as a club,” Duffy continued.
“We didn’t know how we were getting taken forward but then Shane came in and that gave us as a boost.
“All we have been trying to do over the last couple of years is improve. We have improved already from last year and we are just looking to perform against Maghery.
“I would never say that one particular coach or manager has been the best I have worked with but Shane is definitely in the top bracket.”
Duffy made history in the quarter-final win over Madden as he became the first Armagh club player to win a tie via a penalty as his spot-kick knocked the Raparees out.
He said that while he was glad to see the ball hit the net, he didn’t feel that it was the right way to finish the contest.
“I wouldn’t be a big fan of it,” said the former Armagh half-back. “It shouldn’t come down to that. In saying that, it’s still a skill of the game. All the boys that stepped up would have all played a wee bit of soccer.
“We didn’t plan for it, we fought back two or three times in the match and Shane just asked who wanted to step up and we put ourselves forward.
“I was hoping that maybe Madden didn’t score as many so it didn’t have to come to me!”
By Niall McCoy
Keady v Middeltown
(Sunday, Athletic Grounds, 1.30pm)
ONE of Armagh’s big two are set to fall at the first hurdle as Keady and Middletown meet in the Senior quarter-final on Sunday afternoon.
Derrynoose await the winners in the semi-final in what is sure to be a full-blooded affair. Perhaps the momentum lies with Keady as they earned a 0-13 to 0-7 win over their rivals in their recent Intermediate Football Championship first round. Both teams were dominated by dual players.
Middletown are managed by Sylvester McConnell, Conor McCann and Barney McCann and they have a very experienced panel captained by Martin Moan.
They warmed up for this contest with a big win over Dungannon and they will be keen for revenge.
These are busy times for Keady with a football semi-final with Clan na Gael also on the horizon. Conor Corvan is captaining the side this season with Eamonn McKee and Kieran Hatzer in charge of the show. Expect a lively contest.