"We don't want to go back to the days that we had in the past, we don't have anything else" 1 year ago

"We don't want to go back to the days that we had in the past, we don't have anything else"

The Crossmaglen dressing room was hollow, sombre even.

As if the news had landed that a close friend had passed away. You'd swear the community had experienced some sort of tragedy.

By Crossmaglen's metric, Jamie Clarke's decision to up and leave midway through the 2014/2015 season was exactly that. A sad tale. A sorry story.

"He's the first player ever to leave a Crossmaglen team in the middle of a championship," John McEntee said emptily, in the brilliant BBC documentary, Crossmaglen - Field of Dreams.

McEntee wished Clarke well. So did the whole team. But nobody could hide their shock. Football is everything in Cross, this kind of thing doesn't happen. Not in Crossmaglen.

Clarke set off, and though certain and bold at the outset that it was the right thing for him, it wasn't long before he longed for home, and eventually returned home to help them win an Ulster club.

That's football. That's Crossmaglen.

Fast forward half a decade and things are still the same in south Armagh. There's a new team on the block, with lots of fresh faces involved, but they're still winning, they're still doing things the Cross way.


That's where the O'Neills come into it, Oisín and Rian. They're nephews of the great Oisin McConville and they're two of the teams brightest young talents now.

"10 of our starting team on Sunday were 25 or younger," says Oisín at the launch of the AIB club championships, a couple days after Crossmaglen won their 45th county title.

"So we have sort of built a new group, we still have experience, the likes of Tony Kernan, Paul McKeon, and Johnny Hanratty..."

That's a fair team and speaking to Oisín, it appears it will always be like that in Cross - where football is the be-all and end-all.

"Yeah it is and we've two younger brothers and they're the same as well. We're lucky we come from a family with a great tradition of football and we'd be lost without it. It's what we talk about and it's just what we do..."

"There's no other sport," he says matter-of-factly.


"There's no rugby, soccer, we don't have a swimming pool, we don't have anything else. If you are going to play sport, you're going to play Gaelic football and you're to be down the football field.

"It's probably something that works to our advantage in a way, that we don't have the distraction of other sports..."

"Even on Sunday after the match on the pitch and then when we back to the club, the amount of kids there, it was great to see.

"It's not too long ago, for a lot of us, we were those kids running around looking for Oisin, John or Aaron to sign out jersey. Now we're in that privileged position..."

O'Neill knows how important it is to be a Crossmaglen footballer, he knows this is what he dreamed of.

"With the background I have, we would have been in the field when the boys were training, kicking balls back out to them.

"It was always a privilege to watch. Some of the things I've seen those boys do on a training field, things that people wouldn't get to see them do on game days..."

Resistance had a huge part to play in it. Back during the Troubles, Crossmaglen had to fight to keep their club alive with a British Army Barracks setting up right beside them, and by God did they fight.

"Cross had its troubles in the past," says 22-year-old O'Neill.

"But it's becoming more vibrant than in the past. There's more shops opening up, most restaurants, more coffee shops.

"We don't want to go back to the days that we would have had in the past. We feel like we've moved on," he says of the looming Brexit cloud and the threat of a hard border.

"Even in our team, a lot of the fellas would work in Dublin. We wouldn't want to see anything change that would affect daily life.

 Crossmaglen, where football is life.

Crossmaglen Rangers and Armagh senior footballer Oisin O’Neill at the launch of the AIB Camogie and Club Championships. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA & Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile