The Armagh football leagues get underway this weekend with all divisions throwing in at 2pm this Sunday.
The new formats, with 8 teams competing in Senior A and B, Intermediate A and B and Junior, should see a competitive league from the very start as every game is crucial for teams to either win promotion or stave off relegation come the end of the season. Teams will also play each other on a home and away basis this year and the leagues will finish before championship begins.
We spoke to a number of Armagh Gaels to give us their thoughts in the lead-up to the opening day of the league.
Barry Shannon – Former Armagh Player and Current Forkhill Player
I believe that Clann Éireann are the team to look out for this year. They have been hugely impressive at underage level and are now starting to progress that to senior level. Amongst the players to look out for in the league are Shea Heffron from Clann Éireann and Cathal McKenna from the Grange. In our own division, Senior B, I believe any of the team could realistically get promoted and any could get relegated, but I think Clann Éireann will shave it.
Senior A – Cullyhanna
Senior B – Clann Éireann
Intermediate A – Killeavy
Intermediate B – Shane O’ Neill’s
Junior – Clonmore
Steve Malone – Journalist, Newry Democrat
I expect Crossmaglen’s Rian O’Neill to be the standout player at club level and county minor level this year. With so many talented minors, Crossmaglen may take the league more seriously this season. As always, the Harps and Maghery won’t be far away and Cullyhanna should make an impression too. I think the Grange will surprise a lot in Senior B. Sunday’s clash between rivals Forkhill and Dromintee will also be important. Intermediate A is the battle of South Armagh, but St Peter’s will be confident of topping the group. Killeavy, Cruppen and Whitecross should be amongst the front runners. I expect Lissummon and Keady to dominate the junior league this year.
Brian Mallon – Former Armagh Player and current Tír na nÓg Captain
In Senior A Maghery are likely to be challenging with Crossmaglen and Cullyhanna for the league title. With Clann Éireann’s success last year and with their excellent underage structures, they will be looking to continue that development into senior grade football. Clan na Gael will want to push forward in 2016 and have some good young footballers to enable them to do so in Intermediate B.
James Doyle is an exciting prospect for Wolfe Tones and it will be intriguing to see how many of Crossmaglen’s promising underage players make the step up in 2016. Conor McNally with Derrynoose can contribute highly to Derrynoose’s campaign in Intermediate B, as can County U21 player Shane McPartlan with Clan na Gael. It will also be interesting to see how my former Armagh team-mate Philip Loughran gets on in his first season with Clady in a number of years. Predictions:
The only certainty is the uncertainty in relation to winners and losers in each division. Every game matters and that’s what players and supporters want.
Niall McCoy – Journalist, Gaelic Life
The team I’ll be looking out for in Senior A is Maghery. The club rate Shane McConville very highly and it will be interesting to see if he can turn them into genuine contenders for both league and championship silverware. In Senior B Clann Éireann will have a real chance to continue their progress and should be pushing for promotion. Some people will expect Dromintee to be very strong here but they are too young, too inexperienced and have too few players to chose from. Intermediate A, or the south Armagh quagmire, is going to be ridiculous with all teams taking points off each other. St Peter’s and St Paul’s could benefit from this as the south Armagh derbies will be hard-hitting. The surprise packets may actually be a youthful Silverbridge side. If Clan na Gael need a reminder of how much their stock has fallen, they just have to realise that they are now in Armagh’s fourth tier. They’re too big of a club to be here, and if they can get much-needed consistency into their game they should come up. Middletown, if they have their hurling players available, would be another team who could make a mark. The restructure will probably mean a fair few mismatches in the Junior League, but Clonmore, Ballyhegan and the Cross and Cullyhanna second strings should be milling around the top.
There’s plenty of young talent coming through in Armagh and it will be interesting to see how they progress. For Crossmaglen, I’ll be watching the progress of Rian O’Neill and Diarmuid McConville. Cullyhanna continue to have some of the best youngsters in the county and Aodhan Conlon should provide another goal threat to that of Aidan Nugent. After some bad luck with injuries, it’s also good to hear that Pearse Casey is getting close to fitness. In the second tier, it’s worth keeping an eye on the two Cathal McKennas. Two different players but both carry big goal threats. The Grange version has been really impressive for years while the Dromintee one will be hoping to add consistency to his game. If he does, he’ll raise a lot of green flags. In Intermediate, Carrickcruppen have important men like Martin Ferris back while Cathal Boylan and Caolán McConville can help Killeavy mount a charge. Belleek man Fergus Quinn will be one of the the best defenders in the Junior League this year.
Senior A: winners Crossmaglen,
Senior B: Clann Éireann and Granmore
Intermediate A: promoted St Paul’s and Culloville
Intermediate B: promoted Middletown and Clan na Gael
Junior: promoted Clonmore and Crossmaglen.
Aaron Kernan – Former Armagh Player and Current Crossmaglen Player
It will be interesting to see if last year’s league champions Cullyhanna can build on that especially with their young players coming through this year.
I see Jemar Hall and Cathal McKenna as two very exciting prospects in Armagh.
This year’s leagues are likely to be the most competitive they have ever been with very small margins between victory and defeat and it should lead to five good, competitive leagues.