GIVEN that Crossmaglen have sometimes been referred to as ‘the Kerry of club football’ it seems rather fitting that there will be a Kingdom lilt to be heard in Sunday’s county final against Ballymacnab.
Chris Crowley’s journey to the Rangers’ defence hasn’t been typical. It’s taken him via the Glenfesk club in Kerry and the Palatine club in Carlow, as well as the Carlow inter-county team, before he ended up in the heartland of south Armagh.
“I’m originally from Kerry and then I moved to Carlow for college and ended up playing club football there,” said Crowley.
“I was playing with Carlow and then I ended up meeting a girl from Crossmaglen about four years ago and ended up moving up last year.
“I was doing the commute to Carlow but I finished that this year because it was getting a bit too much.”
When he did start making trips up north, Crowley thought he would find a church, a football field and a local shop – and not much more.
He has, however, been taken aback by the energy surrounding the border town.
“I was very surprised,” he admitted. “You’d think it’s a place in the middle of nowhere with nothing going on, but it’s very busy.
“It’s a tight community, everyone knows everyone. When I first moved up I’m sure people were thinking ‘who the hell is this lad?’ But they’re such nice people.”
Everything in Cross gravitates towards the football field and it seemed only natural that Crowley would head in that direction.
He watched on from the stands last season before joining Kieran Donnelly’s panel at the start of this season.
He has had to bide his time, being left on the bench for the group game with Ballymacnab before earning a starting spot in the knock-out games against Silverbridge and Maghery.
“Against Ballymacnab I was a sub but I had no right to complain because the lads were well worth their spots,” he said.
“Sometimes you just need a break and you try and make the most of it and thankfully I’ve managed to get playing again.
“They’re a committed bunch, a great bunch of lads who made me feel welcome.
“I’m from the country myself, so that made it a bit easier for myself too.”
It’s at the back where question marks have persisted about the Crossmaglen team. Yet, they can rightly turn around and say that they have conceded a combined 0-15 in the knock-out contests against the ‘Bridge and Maghery.
They were looser in the group stages, conceding 3-11 against Sarsfields and 2-12 against Sunday’s opposition, but Crowley wasn’t too concerned about the latter.
An Oisin O’Neill goal in the first minute got them off to a blistering start and they were 1-7 to 0-0 ahead inside 10 minutes, and the player believes that the Nab’s high tally owed a lot to the foot coming off the accelerator.
Still though, Ballymacnab have an attack that must be respected and Crowley is looking forward to the challenge in a repeat of last year’s decider.
“I went to the final last year and Jesus it was a great game,” he said.
“I think Cross were losing for nearly 40 minutes and then they brought on young Cian McConville and must have kicked seven or eight scores in a row from play.
“That group game against Ballymacnab, we went up a good few points. I know they got a goal and a few points near the end but I always felt we were in control.
“Come a final though you’d always want to put them away. The group phase it doesn’t matter as much but you want to be doing something like that when there is a trophy on the line.”
Crowley was a key component in the Carlow rising, and he hasn’t ruled out a return to the inter-county scene – maybe even as part of the Orchard rising.
“I’m happy enough playing with Cross but I would go along with it if I was asked,” he said.
“My ambitions with Carlow are definitely done anyway because the driving just wasn’t good on my body. I was in the car for two hours going to training and two hours after it, and I was feeling it.”