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Rangers Cross' over to greatest All-Ireland side

DON'T be fooled even if the record books tell you otherwise: Crossmaglen Rangers are now the greatest club side in the history of Gaelic football. Unofficially!

Nemo Rangers might still boast otherwise, citing their record haul of seven All-Irelands. But theirs would be a dubious enough claim when you consider that the Cork city outfit have lifted the Andy Merrigan Cup just once -- in 2003 -- since Cross' decided to go full-time into the silverware storage business.

Their first All-Ireland came in 1997; their sixth materialised last Saturday with a vintage display that suggested the Armagh standard bearers will make it a magnificent seven in the not-too-distant future.

When you see Oisin McConville (right), 36 years young, kicking six effortless points en-route to his sixth All-Ireland club medal, you can only marvel at Cross's capacity to keep on coming back for more.

But then you scan the match programme and spy the Cross' age profile ... to discover that, with the venerable exceptions of McConville and fellow six-time winner Paul Hearty, they are a relatively young team.

Their greatest achievement, surely, is that they've stayed so successful in the midst of transformation, replacing one great team (from the late 1990s) with another that now promises to eclipse Joe Kernan's original trailblazers.

And what of a gallant but ultimately outclassed Garrycastle? They say you've got to lose one to win one, but their unfortunate example proves that you certainly don't want to draw one with Crossmaglen.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

SPEAKING of Garrycastle, spare a thought for Anthony Cunningham, who signed off as manager of the Westmeath champions in deflating circumstances on Saturday evening.

There are times when this double-jobbing must seem a lark: on the weekend of February 18/19, for example, Cunningham masterminded a famous All-Ireland semi-final victory against close rivals St Brigid's before leading the Connacht hurlers to an inter-pro final courtesy of a 10-point win over Ulster.

Moving swiftly along to the St Patrick's weekend, Cunningham bucked the odds by cajoling Garrycastle to a shock All-Ireland stalemate with Crossmaglen ... and then saw his Galway hurlers give Cork an eight-point start before launching a winning comeback.

Last weekend, though, the Midas touch deserted Ireland's hardest-worker (with apologies to Enda Kenny). Garrycastle lost their All-Ireland replay by 15 points, and then Galway had a 25-point loss in Kilkenny, to push them into a relegation play-off with Dublin.

Losing two games by 40 points can't be easy, but Cunningham can now channel all his energies into Galway hurling (a full-time occupation, if ever there was one) while he won't see another black-and-amber jersey until July at the earliest!