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Armagh SFC – Big game weekend

Pearse Og v Ballymacnab

(Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 6.15pm)

BALLYMACNAB will by no means take the challenge of Pearse Og lightly, but it is probably the draw they favoured most in the last eight.

Their other two options were Maghery, rated as the second best team in the county behind Crossmaglen, and Granemore. A tie with the St Mary’s men would have brought the derby element into play and the potential pitfalls that go along with such encounters.

Still though, an improving Ogs side provide a very difficult path to the last four, particularly as they have had pretty much the perfect preparation for this clash.

Shane McConville’s side booked their spot in the last eight after just two rounds but he told Gaelic Life that he wanted to keep their winning run going in round three.

They managed that with a 4-18 to 2-11 victory over Culloville and a good first half meant that McConville was able to make six substitutions soon after the break to keep his players fresh for this clash.

Paul Duffy and Vinny Brady have been excellent breaking out from the back for the side while James Freeman really caught the eye up front.

Ballymacnab manager Bernie Murray described their one-point play-off win over Armagh Harps as “an arm-wrestle” and that’s pretty close to the mark.

Played in greasy conditions, the clock in Ballycrummy had read 33 and a half minutes when Gavin McParland’s shot flew over the bar to secure the Nab’s last-eight spot.

Jimmy Gray missed the match through illness and will return here while they will be hoping for more from the Grugan brothers, who were quieter than usual.

Jack started well and helped himself to yet another goal but he was less effective when Declan McKenna switched onto him.

Rory wasn’t his usual influential self either but still played a massive part in their goal.

Perhaps Murray would be happy that they have shown that there are other players that can stand up with Paul Meegan in particular excellent when the game was in the balance.

The Ogs will be confident of taking down their third Senior A team this season, but Ballymacnab should just have a bit to spare.

Verdict: Ballymacnab

Granemore v Madden

(Saturday, Athletic Grounds, 8pm)

GRANEMORE knew that they had a two in three chance of having a huge derby game this weekend – and those odds played out as they were pitted against Madden.

The St Mary’s men were the first side to secure their spot in the last eight and given they have already earned promotion to the Senior A division – unless Madden win the championship – it has been a fantastic first year in charge for Eamon Kavanagh.

There is an old school sort of feel to this Granemore team with midfielders Brendan Boylan and Tony McClelland possessing plenty of skills that one used to association with the position – high fielding and immense strength.

Kieran Toner, who also can spend time in the middle, is also an old-fashioned target man on the edge of the square. He won’t score much, but he’ll win ball and lay it off the onrushing attackers.

Madden too have players who can rotate between midfield and full-forward, namely Niall Grimley and Ryan Grimley.

They had it far too easy against an out-of-sorts Killeavy in last week’s play-off encounter in Crossmaglen.

Eight points separated the sides at the end of the game but the Raparees messed up a couple of late goal chances when they took the wrong options.

Still though, it was a very good performance with Niall Grimley absolutely bossing proceedings from start to finish.

Kyle Morgan had yet another excellent game protecting his own square and breaking forward at pace while Arron McKenna, who is involved with the TG4 Underdogs squad, calmly took the only goal of the game early on.

Some of the biggest cheers of the day came when youngster Joe Sheridan came on in the final moments and kicked two fine points, much to the delight of the Madden fanbase.

There is so much at stake here, particularly for Granemore. Win and they are playing Senior A football next year regardless of how the rest of the season pans out.

However, they may have to wait and hope that Madden get knocked out further down the line.

Verdict: Madden

Crossmaglen v Silverbridge

(Sunday, Cullyhanna, 1.30pm)

SILVERBRIDGE hammered Crossmaglen in the league back in June but the chances of them earning any sort of win on Sunday are slim and none.

The Harps are on the rise, and the fact that their minors are back in the county final adds even more reason to be hopeful. However, they remain miles off their neighbours.

It’s been an interesting journey to this game for Silverbridge. They have played four games in this year’s championship and included in those have been a one-point loss, a one-point win and a two-point win.

The most dramatic of those was undoubtedly their one-point play-off win over Sarsfields last week.

With Joe Rock starring in attack, the Bridge led 0-9 to 0-4 at the break. They started the second half in whirlwind fashion and Brendan Burns’s goal helped them to an 11-point lead and seemingly coasting to the quarter-finals.

The High Moss men had other ideas though and with Eamonn McGeown joining brother Paul in the full-forward line, they started to cause pandemonium and amazingly they had drawn level with five minutes remaining.

However, with the momentum completely against them, the south Armagh men managed to fashion one last good team move and Peter Carragher finished it off to secure a 1-16 to 3-9 win.

Crossmaglen, meanwhile, had an unusual day’s work against Ballymacnab last time out.

A six-point win in their toughest game was to be admired, but manager Kieran Donnelly would have been concerned at some aspects of their game having raced into a 1-7 to 0-0 lead inside 10 minutes.

That goal came in the opening 10 seconds after an almost telepathic link-up between the O’Neill brothers, Rian and Oisin, with Johnny Hanratty playing an important role in the well-rehearsed throw-in set-piece.

There were other positives too. Cian McConville looked dangerous even if he did snatch at some shots, Alan Farrelly caught some great ball and having Kyle Carragher and Tony Kernan to come off the bench is no bad thing either.

There were some negatives too, however. They couldn’t get their hand on ball around midfield in the third quarter and their full-back line did struggle when Jack Grugan pushed further forward in the second period.

The Rangers have been pushed hard in recent years by huge underdogs like Madden and Whitecross. They must be wary of that here, but there’s no doubting that they’ll find a way to progress.

Verdict: Crossmaglen

Maghery v Cullyhanna

(Monday, Athletic Grounds, 8pm)

THE tie of the round will see Maghery and Cullyhanna clash in a repeat of the 2016 county final.

The Sean McDermott’s won that game by a goal and they should be good enough to end Cullyhanna’s season.

Anyone questioning if they have the hunger this season should look no further than a moment five minutes from the end of their round three win over Dromintee.

A double-digit victory had been all but confirmed and the St Patrick’s men, thoroughly disappointing on the night, were just hoping for the final whistle.

Maghery forced a turnover and were suddenly three-on-two. Veteran midfielder James Lavery, who had endured a physical battle all night, hit top speed and sprinted from midfield to make it a four-on-two.

Finnian Moriarty’s side were stung by their loss to Madden and their less than impressive win over Annaghmore.

Dromintee bore the brunt with Ben Crealey impressing in midfield while Aidan Forker was exceptional as he moved between full-forward and the ‘40’.

The Sean McDermott’s remain title contenders although Cullyhanna are a huge threat to those ambitions.

Stephen Reel’s side have really stepped it up in recent weeks with Ciaran McKeever taking a bigger role in training the side.

They came through a difficult test with Dromintee last week with a couple of late goals proving decisive.

The game was deadlocked with a few minutes remaining when their opponents looked like they had earned a tap-over free.

Referee Stephen Murray instead blew for over-carrying and Cullyhanna launched a blistering counter attack that ended with midfielder Stephen Conlan unleashing a rocket that hit both posts before landing in the net. Kieran Hoey netted moments later to seal the deal.

It was an impressive result considering that chief scorer Aidan Nugent was harshly black-carded just before the interval. He will be key to their hopes here and he must stay on the field.

Verdict: Maghery

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