Draw a fair result

November 4, 2013

● Ulster Club Kilcoo (Down) 2-09 v Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 1-12

There will be plenty of tired, aching limbs, a long queue for the physio but none of the participants from this terrific drawn contest, at a well attended  Pairc Esler, will want to miss next Sunday’s replay in the Athletic Grounds at 2-30pm. The consensus of opinions was that even after the 20 minutes extra-time a draw was a fair result leaving both teams wondering if they had left it behind them. This was real Championship fare, played at a hectic pace throughout, hard hitting with no quarter asked or given, mistakes a plenty, flashes of genius, inconsistency from a ref who was determined to let the game flow, but you had to wait to see in which direction the finger pointed for the free, which added to the spectacle but frustrated the players who selflessly gave wholehearted commitment even when drained and exhausted in a game that will be talked about for all the right reasons.

Champions Cross have been in a few tight scrapes before but this one is right up there with the best, 6 points down and no score on the board in the first 18 minutes, 4 points down with 5 minutes left and draw level in a match where they never had their noses in front, it was not until 7 minutes into the first period of extra-time that Cross took the lead but were hit with a killer goal only to respond with 4 unanswered points and could only watch as wing back Darragh O’Hanlon floated over two long range frees to give Kilcoo a second bite at the cherry next Sunday.

Jim McCorry was adamant that his Kicooo charges would not be caught cold in the opening quarter like their last meeting and indeed it was the Magpies who made the flying start as the opening point, from Gerard McEvoy, was followed by an eighth minute goal from Ryan Johnston following a one two with Conor Laverty. A point from play followed by one from a free from Darragh O’Hanlon stretched the lead to 1-3 to no score as the leaderless champions looked in big trouble. While Kilcoo will point to other individual incidents in the course of the match which they believe may have cost them victory. for me it was their failure to add to their substantial lead which cost them dearest. The Down champions failed to trouble the scoreboard for 27 minutes following their opening salvo.

Rangers were dealt a severe blow when Aaron Kernan (Achilles) and Aaron Cunningham (Shoulder) forced manager Joe into changes with Stephen Finnegan and Paul Og Grant in as replacements. The re-jigged Cross were all over the place in the opening 20 minutes but in the absence, of driving force from the back, brother Aaron it was Stephen and Tony Kernan who took on the responsibility of getting the champions back on track. Two pointed frees from Tony and a rare feat a first Cross score from play in the thirtieth minute from Stephen Kernan left just the green flag between them at the short whistle. Despite all their dominance Kilcoo were within striking distance and an improved second half was sure to come from the Armagh title holders.

Six minutes after the re-start two Tony Kernan pointed frees had the deficit down to the minimum. Worse was to follow for Kilcoo as the influential Anthony Devlin and first half substitute Felim McGreevy (on for the injured Jerome Johnston) both departed injured. Two wides from Darragh O’Hanlon were quickly forgotten as Paul Devlin delivered the Magpies first score for 27 minutes to double their lead which was shortlived as Callum Cumiskey replied with a Cross point. Two more Devlin points sandwiched in between one from goalscorer Johnston steadied the Kilcoo ship as they led 1-7 to 0-6. Cross had introduced David McKenna for Brennan earlier on but it was their second substitution which brought them back into the game as Conor O’Neill came on for Mickey McNamee. Ulster debutant O’Neill went to half back with Big Joe switching Martin Aherne into attack. Rangers lifeline came courtesy of a Kilcoo defender whose across goal pass went to the tireless Kyle Carragher who offloaded to Stephen Kernan whose hard low shot squeezed under the body of advancing keeper  Stephen Kane and just crept over the goaline. Game on as the champions piled on the pressure and were level pegging once Martin Aherne popped one over the net with the same player squandering two gilt edged chances to give Cross victory in normal time but it was not to be as the final whistle sounded and extra-time beckoned.

The odds-on champions had played their get out of jail card and would have the legs on their opponents and would make it count. Scores would be at a premium as tired limbs and minds would lead to errors. A cagey scoreless opening 7 minutes ended with Kyle Brennan, back on in place of Grant, was fouled and Tony Kernan gave Cross the lead for the first time in the match but they were soon to be rocked by a resilient Kilcoo. A long punt from Paul Devlin into the square saw Hearty advance from his goal to claim the ball but he was beaten to the punch by Paul Greenan and Kilcoo were 2-7 to 1-8 in front. Substitute Brennan fired over two great points from play for Cross as the sides went to the break level 1-10 to 2-7.

The opening score in the second period of extra-time would be crucial and it went the way of the holders. My Man of the Match, Stephen Kernan, was fouled enabling brother Tony to regain the lead. Stephen brilliantly fielded the kick-out linked with Tony who found Conor O’Neill who showed great composure as he teed up Johnny Hanratty who sailed the ball straight through the middle of the uprights for a 2 point lead for the champions for the first time in the game. Credit  to Kilcoo, who failed to wilt in the face of adversity, and were rewarded by the nerveless O’Hanlon who despite easier missed chances gave Kilcoo another day at the office next Sunday.

This will be a worrying week for both managers as they weigh up their casualty list. In that respect Kilcoo seem to be in more bother as they had a quartet withdrawn with injury during the course of the draw and if a few of their starting 15 were missing it could be very telling.

Cross will have a week to re-plan without Aaron Keenan and may have the other Aaron available which would be a boost. Rangers young charges were in at the deep end and kept swimming despite struggling and will have learned a hell of a lot about real championship football having coasted through Armagh. Replays are always about who learns the most from the draw The matchup’s between Kyle Carragher and Niall McEvoy and Paul McKeown and Conor Laverty were superb and if either forward can get the better of his man the next day it could prove crucial. Rangers replay record is very formidable and a semi-final meeting with Ballinderry will be their reward for edging out the Down champions.

Crossmaglen Rangers: Paul Hearty; Paul Hughes, Paul McKeown, Stephen Finnegan;

Michael McNamee, Gerard Carragher, Danny O’Callaghan; Johnny Hanratty 0-1, Tony Kernan 0-6, Paul Og Grant, Stephen Kernan 1-1, Martin Aherne 0-1, Kyle Brennan 0-2, Kyle Carragher, Calum Cumiskey 0-1.

Subs: David McKenna, Mel Boyce, Conor O’Neill, Kyle Brennan.

Kilcoo: Stephen Kane; Niall Branagan, Niall McEvoy, Daryl Branagan; Darragh O’Hanlon 0-4, Sean O’Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy 0-1, Aidan Branagan, Paul Greenan 1-0, Paul Devlin 0-3, Anthony Devlin, Gary McEvoy, Jerome Johnston, Conor Laverty, Ryan Johnston 1-1.

Subs Felim McGreevy, Aaron Branagan, Seamus Devlin, James McClean, Niall Morgan, Sean Devlin, Martin Devlin.