Armagh Senior Football Championship

October 7, 2013

• T-Met Senior Football Championship Crossmaglen Rangers 0-15 Maghery 1-09

Champions Cross comfortably booked their place in the final

Champions Cross comfortably booked their place in the final despite what the finishing scoreline might suggest. Akin to twelve months ago Rangers were out of the blocks flying and led 6 points to nil after 13 minutes.  Cross failed to score for the last 20 minutes of the half which allowed Maghery draw level despite not scoring from open play (3 pointed frees and a penalty) by the time the short whistle sounded. One thought that the Maghery recovery gave them every chance for the second half but captain Tony Kernan (games joint top scorer with 0-5) regained the initiative for the holders with 2 pointed frees inside 3 minutes of the restart. A converted Aaron Kernan free left a green flag between them 0-9 to 1-3.

To their credit Maghery, with their first score from play on 38 minutes from Shay Tennyson followed by a second 3 minutes later from Paul Forker reduced the deficit once again to the minimum but that was as good as it was to get for the challengers. Four unanswered points, all from play from Stephen Kernan, Aaron Cunningham and a brace from Kyle Carragher killed off any lingering thoughts of an upset as Rangers were 5 points to the good with as many minutes (stoppage time aside) left on the clock.

Both teams started the teams which began their respective quarter-final victories. Cross brought Stephen Kernan out to partner Johnny Hanratty at midfield and moved Danny O’Callaghan to centre of defence with Garvan Carragher on the wing. Maghery, for the second year in succession began the match like a rabbit caught in the headlights in the opening quarter as the champions stamped their authority all over the pitch early on.

A foul on Tony Kernan enabled brother Aaron open the scoring inside the opening minute followed by a second from the third Kernan brother Stephen after good work by “blood sub” Mickey McNamee. Raiding corner-back Paul Hughes added point number three  before Maghery goalkeeper John Montgomery saved a snap shot from Martin Aherne as the Loughshore manager brought on Jack Lavery and Eoin Scullion to re-boost his charges after only 10 minutes. Two points from play from Tony Kernan followed with Kyle Brennan chipping in with point, number 6 on 13 minutes and at this stage the large crowd were expecting the worst in terms of a contest of meaning.

Maghery registered their first score from the boot of Stefan Forker following a foul on brother Paul and 5 minutes later their second came from a converted “45” by goalkeeper Montgomery, following his opposite number Paul Hearty saving a goal attempt from Aidan Forker. A tale of a second “45” produced the only goal of the game. As Tony Kernan lined up his “45” an encroachment by teammate Johnny Hanratty saw the referee “throw-up” the ball which was worked down the field to substitute Jack Lavery whose path to goal was blocked illegally via a foot trip/block resulting in a penalty in the 24th. minute. Paul Forker expertly dispatched to the net past the despairing dive of Hearty. At the opposite end Montgomery made a smart save from a Brennan point attempt as the game entered 3 minutes of added time. Stefan Forker converted a soft free for parity before brother Aidan was wide from another placed ball which would have given the underdogs an unlikely interval lead.

Crossmaglen Rangers are in the final, seeking four in a row and will be short odds-on to achieve this. All the more remarkable when one considers that a third of the team, James Morgan, Paul Kernan, David McKenna, Jamie Clarke and Oisin McConville who contested the All-Ireland semi-final last February are missing thus far in the Armagh championship.

• T-Met Senior Football Championship Cullyhanna 1-14 Ballymacnab 2-10

Up to the Task Pat’s Nab late winner

St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna with a super second-half performance overturned a 7 point interval deficit to reach a historic first ever Senior final at the expense of a shell-shocked Ballymacnab.

The Round Towers shook off the late withdrawal of team captain Brian McCone to turn in a scintillating opening 30 minutes with some terrific passages of play. Player switches and man marking duties from the ‘Nab manager to his charges worked to perfection, prior to the interval. Tony McKee, Ryan Kennedy, Chris Loughran and James Gray mopped up everything loose between the two forties and found ready outlets in the Grugan brothers Jack and Rory who tormented the Pat’s defence to the tune of 2-5.

Jack Grugan on in place of his injured skipper opened the scoring inside 40 seconds for the ‘Nab who were never headed until added time just before the final whistle. A quick Liam O Hare free to the elusive Robbie Tasker who notched the first of a personal total of 1-7. Tony McKee and Ryan Kennedy edged Ballymacnab 3-1 ahead before a Tasker free for a foul on Mal Mackin who was the long ball option for his team. Jack Grugan from a free doubled the scores but on 13 minutes Pat’s defender Sean Connell raided successfully for a point to cut the deficit to the minimum. Conor O Neill made a great save to deny Rory Grugan a goal but his defenders could not clear the ball which was recycled by Dominic McParland to Jack Grugan who rattled the net on 16 minutes. Midfielder Barry McConville made an instant reply to the goal with a point to leave just the green flag between them. Jack Grugan took a short free, got the ball back to stretch his side’s lead with a well worked point. Tasker from play kept Pat’s ticking over only for Rory Grugan and Gary McKee with good points to stretch the lead to 5. Paudie McCreesh got on the end of a good move to fist a point with six minutes to go to the short whistle. Rory Grugan cut inside two defenders before parting with the ball to brother Jack who bagged his second goal of the game. Jack quickly followed up the goal with a pointed free and the ‘Nab were eight points in front 2-8 to 0-6. Before the second goal Pat’s brought on Colm Hoey (who had been replaced from the start by Pearse Casey) for Paudie McCreesh in the first of telling changes which were to turn the match in their favor as they finished the half with a point from Mal Mackin following good work by Ciaran McKeever.

In their previous championship outings Pat’s had turned it on in the second half and the question was could they do it once again when they were in the biggest difficulty of all. Returned after suspension, Eugene Casey came on at centre forward for the Pat’s and was immediately involved shooting their second wide of the game. Casey though proved to be their savior as he picked off a loose ball that had gone the opponents way the whole first half. Hitherto dominant ‘Nab did not know whether to stick or twist when it came to protecting their lead and wound up doing neither which saw them lose their way and eventually the game.

Malo Mackin found Tasker who cut the lead to two goals with a McKeever daisy cutter for a goal skipping wide of the upright. The first real ‘Nab error saw Gray misplace a pass to McKeever who gave Tasker the easy task of getting his fifth point. Midfielder McKee lifted the siege with a point to make it 2-9 to 0-9 on 35 minutes but it would be over 20 minutes before Ballymacnab would swoop for their second and last point of the half. A third of the half for Tasker with the outside of the boot was followed by a first for Eugene Casey 0-11 to 2-9. Rory Grugan watched as both umpires and referee granted him a point from his high curler but it was subsequently “disallowed” by the linesman. If that was not bad enough the same player was wide of the mark with a much simpler chance as Tony Donnelly replaced Nugent for the Pat’s. It was the turn of the Beagan brothers to combine as the two ‘Nab defenders Michael and Kevin swept downfield with the latter restoring a 5 point lead 2-10 to 0-11 with ten minutes still to play. A bad wide from a McKeever “45” was soon forgotten about as Liam O Hare found Tasker who left goalkeeper Sean Hughes helpless from 20 yards as he put the ball into the roof of the net. Moments later the impressive Loughran blocked Tasker at the expense of a “45” from which Pearse Casey made no mistake which left it a one point game 1-12 to 2-10. It was one way traffic as McConville burst through the ‘Nab defence offloaded to Eugene Casey who coolly leveled matters as the clock headed for added time. Pat’s pressed again and were rewarded with a 30 meter free following a foul on Eugene Casey. Tasker was up to the job as he sent the winner sailing between the posts to complete a remarkable recovery by his team. The night’s drama did not end there as Ciaran McKeever performed the “now customary” cynical foul which was a little higher than most of the more high profile ones on a lot bigger stages and was rightly met with the same punishment. Credit though must go the ‘Nab player who did not make a meal of it and was only interested in getting the ball back in play to try and save the day for his team who had simply lost their way.