Oisín O'Neill hopes Cross can embark on another Ulster adventure
By Cian O’Connell
Oisín O’Neill was born and raised during a time when Crossmaglen Rangers were the dominant force in Armagh.
So that is why it is particularly important for O’Neill that the talented and traditional striped team have returned to prominence.
Not being involved in county deciders in 2016 and 2017 hurt, but Crossmaglen responded to the challenge by claiming a couple of Armagh triumphs.
Sunday’s splendid win over Ballymacnab was Crossmaglen’s 45th title, but O’Neill acknowledges that the time spent away from the showpiece occasions was used wisely.
“Yeah, we were unlucky we had injuries to a couple of big players through that time,” O’Neill reflects. “We probably were in a stage of transition and we are bearing the fruits of that now at the minute. We have come together with a new group that can hopefully push on now in the coming weeks.
“On Sunday we had a bit of pressure on ourselves to do back to back and not to just do a one in a row sort of thing.
“Maybe that pressure got to us a bit in the first half, we weren't playing like we wanted to or the plan we had put in place, we didn't follow it through. Then in the second half we got a grip in the middle of the field which helped us push on to get the scores to win the game.”
Next on the agenda is an interesting AIB Ulster Championship tussle with Monaghan’s Clontibret, who are managed by John McEntee, an iconic Cross figure.
“John was my first manager with Cross along with Oisin (McConville), they were joint managers at the time,” O’Neill says.
“I will always be grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to play for Cross. Look John is a legend in our club, he has captained Cross to an All Ireland club title and he still does a lot of work with underage and stuff.
“It will be strange, but if we prepare properly and come out to play like we did in the second half the other day, hopefully we can get over the line against Clontibret.
“Any team with Conor McManus in it is never going to be easy beaten. It isn't just McManus, the likes of Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey, the experience they are going to bring is something that will be a challenge for us, but we are looking forward to it.”
Football dominates the agenda in the O’Neill household with their father, Gareth, and uncle Oisín McConville occupying central roles in the Crossmaglen story.
Rian O’Neill excelled for Armagh in the Championship so it is an exciting time. “We're lucky we come from a family with a great tradition of football and we'd be lost without it,” Oisín O’Neill acknowledges. “It's what we talk about and it's just what we do.
“Rian had a great year and he just backed up his club form that he brought from the last couple of seasons. Anyone who watches club football in Armagh would have known what he's capable of doing so it was good to see him do it on the bigger stage.”
An ankle injury curtailed Oisín O’Neill’s involvement on the inter-county beat with Armagh, but hopes are high that Kieran McGeeney’s outfit can develop further.
“Personally, it was a frustrating season but I could fully understand why Kieran (McGeeney), Jim (McCorry) and the rest of the Armagh management team didn't probably trust me enough to put me in.
“Like I said, I probably didn't have the same work done that the boys had but hopefully now I'm in a better place for the 2020 season. At the minute, we probably have all the best players in Armagh available for selection and committed to the county, which is the first time that's happened in a while. That's a big thing.
“There's a really good band of players. A lot of our more experienced players are coming towards their natural peak, they're 27, 28, 29. There's a good band of young players like Jarly and Rian coming through to support them.”
The future certainly appears bright for both Crossmaglen and Armagh.