Cross captain still hurting

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Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
Community, Sport

Winning the Mackin’s Intermediate Championship in the Athletic Grounds this Sunday (3pm) would make all the hurt of the past year tolerable for Crossmaglen captain Maria O’Donnell.

Her Cross side endured heartache in the 2012 decider when they saw a healthy interval lead overturned and were eventually pipped at the post by Killeavy but for former Armagh forward O’Donnell there has been plenty of physical pain too.

“I’ve been suffering from a back problem this past couple of years, which caused me to give up county football, but at this stage it’s mind over matter so I just get on with it in spite of the constant pain,” she says.

“It has meant doing my own training and rehab and even skipping league football this season but having come through two cruciate operations during my career, I’ve no illusions about injury not being part and parcel of sport.”

A member of the Armagh team narrowly beaten by Cork in the 2006 All Ireland final, O’Donnell knows all too well how hard it is to get back to a decider and is determined that Cross make this second chance count.

“This county championship campaign is so important to our club and, after coming close last year, it’s great to be back in the final with the opportunity to get our hands on the trophy.

“Killeavy last year were formidable opposition and, having lost the final the previous year, they were like a wounded animal. We were well up at half-time but they dug deep out of desperation and we should have that hunger this time.”

There aren’t many players around now who were involved back when Cross were dominating the Armagh Senior Championship and, as one of the few links between the teams, O’Donnell isn’t living in the past.

“We were blessed back then with some serious senior players so it was a golden era but most of them have gone now and it’s credit to the present panel that we’ve reached two finals in the past 12 months.

“It’s great for this group of girls who have worked hard to maintain the Cross reputation, built by the men’s team over the past couple of decades and previous ladies sides. There’s a culture of success in the club but winning this final would be especially sweet.”

Their opponents this time are a Division Two outfit but O’Donnell is anticipating a close contest against a confident Grange team that has accounted for Lissummon and Ballyhegan already in this campaign.

“Grange might appear a complete surprise package, but they’ve got some cracking footballers, not least young Siobhan Mackle who has tremendous speed. She caught my eye in the Armagh Minors team a couple of years back and is now impressing at senior level.

“Then there’s my old county team-mate Dervla Toal, Mallon now, who I’ve great respect for. She’s one of many friendships formed from that era but we’re very competitive people, proud of our clubs and determined to be on the winning team here.

“We’re desperate to bounce back from last year and they’ll want to really make the most of a first final for ages and it’s interesting too from the fact we’re in different divisions of the league and not used to playing each other.”

The fact that this year’s county championship is being staged as a finals day extravaganza in the Athletic Grounds adds to the sense of occasion, giving the likes of O’Donnell another outing at headquarters and her younger team-mates a shop window.

“Putting on this triple header at the Athletic Grounds really elevates it and showcases club football so all credit to Sinead Reel and her colleagues on the County Board who have made this happen. It should be a good day with three cracking games.

“With the senior side running Cork so close last Saturday, Armagh football is undoubtedly on the up again now and, although that was a heart-wrenching defeat, there are a lot of positives to build upon.”

O’Donnell admits she’d still love to be part of the Orchard outfit but not even the radiographer’s famous mind-over-matter mentality could justify fighting her back condition to that extent when even regular club football is a considerable challenge.

She reluctantly accepts that her time has gone but has higher ambitions for younger club mates and hopes several can catch the eye on Sunday as the icing on the cake of a Cross success.

In striking contrast to the hefty contingent of the mid-noughties, there hasn’t been a single Cross player among 38 who have togged out for the county team this year but Maria believes that situation can change.

“We’d a couple of girls, Aveen Donaldson and Marie Luckie, who were unused subs in the 2012 All Ireland Intermediate final who will hopefully have another crack at it in the future and Lauren McConville is one of several young players coming through.

“It has actually worked well for Cross this season to not be accommodating county commitments but of course, as well as seeking success for our own club, we want to be contributing to a strong county team.

“I think if we can lift this Intermediate title next weekend it will not only be a good day for the club but put a number of our players in the shop window for further honours. But as always it’ll be about the team rather than individuals trying to impress. First and foremost our girls want to win some silverware with Cross,” she concludes.


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