Crossmaglen hold no fear for focused Errigal

Perhaps it’s those back and amber stripes that strike crippling fear into the hearts of opponents. But Kilkenny’s hurlers and the footballers of Crossmaglen have much more than colours in common.

Revered masters of their respective codes, they combine tactical nous with proud tradition, natural talent and a ruthless devotion to their chosen cause and grow rich in the currency of All-Irelands.

Far from infallible, however, these icons can fall, as the Cats discovered once Tipperary summoned the courage and belief to challenge their primacy.

Another team clad in blue and yellow will attempt to achieve what a succession of others have failed over the past three years, when Errigal Ciaran take on Crossmaglen.

But don’t expect the Tyrone title-holders to be paralysed by the fear that the Rangers systematically provoke.

Errigal go into this Clones encounter with genuine credentials, a proud tradition and a head-to-head record against Crossmaglen no other club in the land can match.

Tony McEntee has yet to taste defeat as Crossmaglen boss, two Ulster titles and two All-Irelands embellishing a brief but glistening management CV.

Ominously, however, Errigal Ciaran have never lost to the Armagh giants. Of the four meetings between the sides in the Ulster championship, the Tyrone men have won two and drawn two.

So where now for McEntee? He will of course insist history will have no influence whatsoever on tomorrow’s outcome at St Tiernach’s Park, but he won’t have forgotten the despair he experienced as a player in 2002, when Errigal came out on top in the second replay of an epic three-game semi-final.

Errigal Ciaran, the only Tyrone side to be crowned champions of Ulster, went on to win their second provincial crown on the back of that memorable clash.

The only previous meeting of these two northern giants, in 1997, was also won by the Ballygawley-based club. On that occasion, their goalkeeper was Cathal McAnenly. Now the club chairman, McAnenly is convinced Errigal’s unbeaten record against the South Armagh men will play a positive role in providing the players with the psychological tools to tackle this huge job.

“It will give the Errigal players confidence and belief that Crossmaglen are beatable,” he said.

“When you go out to play you don’t have any fear, but you respect every team you play. But it will also give Crossmaglen an extra motivation from the point of view that they will want to beat a team that they have never beaten.

“And at the end of the day, going out to play Crossmaglen, I have no doubt that the manager and players will be under no illusions about the task ahead of them, with a team that is going for not just three Ulster titles in-a-row, but three All-Ireland titles in-a-row.”

However, the Red Hand title-holders will approach tomorrow’s eliminator with total focus on the present.

“It’s a complete new set of players in Errigal Ciaran, and similarly, a lot of the Crossmaglen players are new also. Past results will stand for nothing, it’s about whichever team performs on the day.”

Mickey Harte was Errigal Ciaran manager back in 2002, the last man to lead Errigal to a provincial title, just weeks before he was appointed Tyrone boss. Also an Ulster Club Championship winner as a member of the squad in 1993, he reflects fondly on the club’s record of achievement on the provincial stage.

“The Ulster club brought back good memories as well of good runs that Errigal have had in Ulster,” said Harte.

“That always excites the people. And the prospect of meeting the big hitters is always great for any club as well.

“Traditionally Errigal have performed well in Ulster. It seems they have no fear in that zone, and the players raise the standard of their own game.

“And now, having two matches behind them, beating Mullahoran away and a big, big win over Ballinderry, in terms of Ballinderry being a household name in Ulster Club Championship and indeed at All-Ireland level, that has given them a lot of confidence.”

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