The Rangers that won't go bankrupt
LAST Sunday I had breakfast served by the players of Crossmaglen Rangers. Jamie Clarke brought it to our table on a tray, the tea was served by Oisín, I got refills from Tony Mac and Gareth O’Neill and who’s that going round the tables with extra milk? Steven Kernan.
Johnny Hanratty on the scones, Bobo on the porridge and Paul McKeown on rasher duty.
And it was a decent breakfast too.
Full of all the cholesterol and fatty stuff that makes the Ulster fry so great, but not to be consumed too often. I had a good feed.
The place was packed. We queued for about a half an hour and this was at 9.30am. Most of Cross were getting ready for ten Mass or still in bed before the 11.30am chapel shift.
Apparently by midday they were queued out to the road. The parish priest was there too, as were all the big hitters from past glories.
On the walls of the Rangers Hall were primary seven artist impressions of the players created by the pupils of the school. Outside the main club officers were on car park duty, not fazed at all by the cheek by jowl of cars for brekky and athletes preparing for the 10k run which was also being organised.
I’d say they took in the guts of five grand in the few hours with all the food sponsored and a zero bill for labour. Oh yeah, and the receptionist was Aaron Kernan. Anyone who ever wondered about what makes GAA values different to other sports just needed to be there.
They’re going for another two in a row as they head for the giddy heights of best ever club in the history of GAA. Nemo still have that title, but Cross are closing in with intent. A successful run-out on Saturday will see another notch on the way to where they want to be.
They follow a particular ritual off the field which is now as important as their on-field discipline. One of the more pleasant aspects of their previous triumphs was a holiday abroad. A lovely, well deserved and perfectly appropriate reward for their work.
Last year they sat down with the committee, did their sums and worked out that it would be wrong to ask the small community which resides in the housing estates round the square to pay to send them to sun themselves.
When the news filtered out round the neighbouring parishes, there was a slight murmur that this might upset their plans for this year. That the lack of a tangible reward which would be taken for granted by other All-Ireland winning teams would blunt the hunger and create even a little bit of dissension in the team. But no. These boys just love playing for Cross and understand their social responsibilities too.
They really do love the game. David McKenna, Aaron Cunningham, Francis Hanratty and Jamie Clarke live in Rathview Park, a well established estate which is a circle of houses with a large piece of green grass in the middle.
A passer-by on a given day might spot these All-Ireland winners out on the green kicking around with their young neighbours. Wee games, two v two with a keeper in. Lismore, another housing estate will have the same.
Oisín was reared right beside the pitch on the Culloville Road with only the Barracks between his house and the field. A short jaunt with a bag of balls every day was how he spent his childhood and the soldiers in the sangar directly overlooking the pitch learned about the finer points of the game from the hours he spent perfecting his free taking art.
Becoming a free taker like Oisín didn’t just happen by accident; it happens because someone practices not till he gets it right, but until he can’t get it wrong.
Phil Taylor has 15 world darts titles. He still practices five hours a day, four more than all the others in the top ten. Oisín and his team mates aren’t just lucky. They haven’t just stumbled on a gifted bunch of players. There is hard work, mixed with temperament and attitude mixed in there which create that unbeatable aura the team has.
I would have expected a piece on TV on Sunday night which might have covered in a more eloquent way all that I have written above, but they chose to visit all the other clubs except Cross, the All-Ireland champions. However, even the slightest schemozzle on Saturday will have them on the radio phone ins all week. The sad thing is that we’ve just become used to that sort of treatment now.
In the spirit of general decency that exists round south Armagh at the moment, all neighbouring clubs are trying to do their bit. We have a fine set-up in our club with great lights.
We love letting them out to train for the All-Ireland final because it gives us a chance to place at least a finger on the Andy Merrigan and say we played out part, but it also lets us see for ourselves how they train, or what they do that is so special.
For anyone going to look for magic formulas, or special drills, or sophisticated set pieces, they would be disappointed. Their training is just about as ordinary as it could be, but it is the intensity that catches the eye. Every player is on task from start to finish and everything is done at speed. They also fill the field in a way that only a county team can. They are big, confident men.
They have owned the feast day of our patron saint in key years for over a decade. I see no reason for that not to continue this Saturday.
And on Monday, our school footballers will be running out in our second MacLarnon final in two years. The work these lads have been doing is awesome. Training on Saturdays, during school holidays, after school, every hour God sends.
School football is our games at their most artful. Well disciplined and superbly drilled lads playing football in a simple, non-cynical way; the games benefit so much from the efforts of teachers and schools in their promotion of the GAA. Hopefully this weekend will be better than the last one for the Gaels of Armagh!