By Shaun Casey
NO Armagh club has ever won an Ulster title at intermediate level and on Sunday afternoon, Cullyhanna become the sixth team to attempt it.
They take on Ballyhaise of Cavan and Cullyhanna captain Pearse Casey says the build up to the decider has been something special.
“It’s unbelievable and everyone keeps saying that football brings the community together and we’ve seen that now over the last number of months on this journey,” said the Cullyhanna midfielder. “Definitely over the last week or two, it’s just been absolutely crazy.
“The support messages that we’re getting from neighbours and even local clubs and our own supporters are absolutely brilliant so it’s unbelievable.
“Our club is a small tight-knit club and there’s always been great support and we saw that even throughout the league but more so we really started to see it in the latter stages of the Armagh Championship.
“Obviously momentum was building with us, and we progressed into Ulster which was unknown territory for us.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been in an Ulster final so it’s massive, it’s been mind-blowing over the last couple of weeks.”
The St Patrick’s club were relegated from senior football last season through the leagues, but with the return of experienced heads such as Tony Donnelly and Mickey Murray along with a number of talent youngsters emerging, they sprang right back up.
“We’ve had maybe nine or ten emigrations over the last few years, including myself, and for any club, especially a small, rural club like us, that’s a lasting blow,” added Casey.
“We went from a top tier Division One team to a Division Two team in two years which was a big blow for us, but I’d say the turning point was players coming back and then we had a load of younger players that just needed a couple of years to bed in.
“They started to play well, and it started to link up really well at the start of the year or even towards the end of last year. We got those boys back and integrated into the way we were playing, and it just took its own legs from there.”
Cullyhanna breezed through Armagh, including a 22-point win over St Paul’s in the Intermediate final, and had their eyes firmly fixed on a run in Ulster.
“We’re on the road now 13 or 14 months at this stage and it’s probably been the most enjoyable 14 months that I’ve ever played football. It’s not a chore to go out and train with these lads, everyone enjoys it and we’re a really, close, tight team and that really helps.
“The county final was on the Sunday, and we enjoyed the Monday, and we chilled out on Tuesday, and we were back training on Wednesday, Ulster is one of our main targets for the year.
“We did say that at the start of the year as well, that this is our main target.
“We have a good team and we trained hard, and it’ll come down to the wire on Sunday against Ballyhaise, they’re a very good team and they’re similar to us.
“We’ve been pushing really hard over the last couple of months, and you can see that in the games that we’ve been playing.”
Pomeroy offered the biggest test to date, pushing Stephen Reel’s men to the pin of their collar, but it was an examination that they passed with a late Aidan Nugent free securing their semi-final spot where they eased past Liatroim.
“Particularly in the second half, 15, 20 minutes into the second half, we were two points up and had the momentum and we showed unbelievable resolve and restraint to control the game at that point and then go ahead.
“We were struggling to break them down and Ross (McQuillan) came down the right-hand side and fisted a score so that really was the driving force and the backboard for us driving on.
“We got five unanswered points and even the way that we won the game with a last-minute point, we controlled that last play, and we knew what we were doing there.”
It would mean the world to Cullyhanna if they could get over the line on Sunday, but Casey knows there’s a massive challenge ahead of his team.
“It’s an ‘if’ but it’ll be a massive boost to the club and it’s no real secret that Armagh clubs have been going through a bit of a tough time. there’s been various things happening across clubs, including our own club.
“It’ll just give everyone a massive boost going into the Christmas period buzzing.
“ I don’t think I can put it into words what it would mean to some of the supporters and the team, it would just mean the absolute world.”