Nothing lost in defeat

February 18, 2013

Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 1-9 St Brigid’s (Roscommon) 2-7

Crossmaglen Rangers quest for the so far elusive three in a row of All-Ireland Club titles were shattered by Connacht and Roscommon champions St Brigid’s. As with their previous two meetings that had gone the way of the defending champions there was just a kick of the ball between the two teams.

An absorbing game of football was littered with off-the-ball challenges and some cynical fouling with the concession of two fortuitous goals at the start, and near the end of the match, ultimately proving the undoing of the champions.

Brigid’s new manager Kevin McStay, an advocate of total football obviously gave way to the more popular choice of “the end justifies the means” as he tries to take St. Brigid’s to the Holy Grail. The devised way he spoke of how to stop Cross, was obviously, not allow them to take any quick frees by fair means or foul.  This tactic obviously met the approval and was within the laws of the game according to Laois Referee Maurice Deegan. The Brigid’s manager was not too worried about total football once he “outcrossed Cross” as his charges were deemed the more cynical of the two teams in terms of their approach to the game. Having been bullied, twice St Brigid’s were not out for a repeat and on the day got the breaks when they were needed.

Like all close encounters this game provided many talking and turning points, with the crucial ones in this match centring on a missed and scored goal.

The reigning champions had somehow turned an early 4 point deficit into an interval 2 point lead 1-5 to 1-3. Kyle Carragher opened the scoring inside the first 20 seconds for Cross who were then hit with 1-2 as veteran Frankie Dolan got the underdogs off to the best possible start when his deflected shot looped over the head of stranded ‘keeper Paul Hearty, on four minutes. The hugely influential Cathal McHugh pointed and a Dolan (free) extended their lead to four – 1-2 to 0-1. Raiding Rangers defender Paul Hughes buried the ball beyond Shane Curran for an excellently taken goal. An Aaron Kernan free levelled before a second point from Carragher gave Cross a 1-3 to 1-2 lead, with a Senan Kilbride free restoring parity.

Already without the services of Aaron Cunningham, who did not start because of injury replaced by Danny O Callaghan who went to centre back with Martin Aherne switching to attack. Crossmaglen suffered another huge blow when hamstring victim since Thursday night training, top scorer Oisin McConville was unable to continue. His replacement Kyle Brennan was in immediate action blazing a fleeting goal chance between the uprights to regain the lead. The rattled challengers then wasted three golden opportunities from frees as Dolan and Senan Kilbride were wide of the mark. Rangers main forward outlet Jamie Clarke took advantage of good work by Brennan and Tony Kernan to double the lead. The short whistle sounded 1-5 to 1-3 to the title holders.

Immediately on the restart Cross were on the offensive and a goalmouth scramble looked to have been cleared by Brigid’s but the defender was dispossessed and the ball played inside to Clarke who drew the keeper before off – loading to Brennan. A gaping goal beckoned but the ball screwed off his foot wide of the upright and a glorious goal opportunity for a 5 point cushion was spurned. The champions would go 22 minutes without a score as the challengers gained control of the play and the scoreboard.

Cross’ problems mounted as they lost full back Paul Kernan to his recurring shoulder injury, with Aaron Cunningham coming on and more re-shuffling in defence which in turn upset the rhythm of the team. Kilbride and Dolan both pointed frees to level 8 minutes into the second half. It was Rangers turn to waste score able frees as Stephen Kernan missed two before Cathal McHugh, a handful all day for his marker O’Callaghan, rose majestically above him to field a high ball turn for goals. Goal flashed across his mind but he elected to punch his team back in front with a fisted point. A first from play from Dolan followed and with 10 minutes left on the clock the champions trailed 1-7 to 1-5.

Crossmaglen Rangers did not become the team they are, the best in the country, by throwing in the towel and in a 90 second blitz they had regained the lead. Playing a true Captains part, David McKenna rallied his troops pointing after receiving a short “45” from Aaron Kernan who was immediately involved in the next point playing a 1-2 with Jamie Clarke who levelled at 1-7 each. Aaron just cleared the crossbar with his left foot effort and Crossmaglen Rangers were a point to the good, 1-8 to 1-7, and yet another of their legendary escape acts looked on the cards.

With the linesman (both of whom were guilty of flagging the wrong way during the course of the game) signalling the ball out of play, referee Deegan gave a free kick against the Rangers defender for pushing him further out over the line. The free was floated into the danger area. The ball bobbled off defenders and forwards eventually falling to Dolan who seemed to be swung around as he tried to kick the ball –penalty was the cry but the mis-hit shot trickled into the path of substitute Conor McHugh who gleefully poked it into an empty net, 2-7 to 1-8 and the pendulum had swung back in favour of the challengers. Worse was to follow for Cross, with everyone watching the action at the goal end of the field shouts alerted to goings on at the opposite end.

Lying flat out as a pancake was Brigid’s goalkeeper Shane Curran. But the cake must have been made with self-raising flour as he rose majestically, able to perform a jig once the red card was waived at culprit Kyle Carragher.

Fourteen man Cross were not going down without a fight and mustered attack after attack, the immense Johnny Hanratty hit a wide, a great delivery from Aaron Kernan bounced in the small square and went just the wrong side of the upright, Clarke’s point in the second minute of injury-time still left the holders one point short and chasing the equaliser. A last gasp effort was cleared by the Brigid’s defence and they were through to the All- Ireland final on March 17th against first time finalists Ballymun Kickhams, who caused another semi-final upset by beating Munster champions Dr Crokes 1-10 to 0-9. Can Brigid’s created a culinary first by adding “the cream” to their Curran Cake by winning on St Patrick’s Day?

For this particular Crossmaglen Rangers management and squad championship action began on Aug 15 2010 now after 28 championship games unbeaten that has yielded 2 All-Ireland, 3 Ulster and 3 Armagh titles it has ended on Feb 16 2013. The debt of gratitude is owed by us to them for the pleasure, enjoyment, happy memories that they have left us with. The Crossmaglen Rangers odyssey and dynasty will continue as it is still in very good fettle as there was absolutely nothing lost in this narrow defeat.

Crossmaglen Rangers – P Hearty; P Hughes (1-0), P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-2), J Morgan, M Aherne; J Hanratty (0-1), D McKenna; D O’Callaghan, S Kernan, T Kernan; J Clarke (0-3), K Carragher (0-2), O McConville. Subs: K Brennan (0-1) for McConville, A Cunningham for P Kernan, C Cumiskey for Cunningham, M Boyce for O’Callaghan.

St Brigid’s – S Curran; R Stack, P Domican, N Grehan; G Cunniffe, D Donnelly, G Dolan; G Aherne, I Kilbride; D Dolan, K Mannion, Cathal McHugh (0-2); S Kilbride (0-2), F Dolan (1-3), R Blaine. Subs: E Sheehy for G Dolan, D Kelleher for Grehan, Conor McHugh (1-0) for Cathal McHugh, G Dolan for D Dolan.

Referee – M Deegan.