November 3, 2014

Ulster senior Football Championship: St. Enda’s, Omagh 2-8 Crossmaglen Rangers 1-9

Crossmaglen Rangers produced a second half performance filled with indiscipline, coupled with a 30 minute scoring drought at the concession of 1-6 to crash out of the Ulster Club championship at the first hurdle to Tyrone champions Omagh, St Enda’s.

Even without the starting services of John Murtagh and Aaron Kernan wind assisted Cross had added to their 1-8 to 1-2 interval lead as Kyle Brennan opened the second half scoring within 2 minutes of the restart. The odds on Armagh champions looked to be cruising towards a semi-final berth but the hosts, who have proven themselves throughout their championship campaign with terrific second half fighting performances, reserved their best for their Healy Park faithful to pull off a stunning victory over their much vaunted opponents.

The Omagh underdogs gave a first hint of their capabilities by scoring an equalising goal with their first meaningful attack some 7 minutes into the game. Pointed frees from Jamie Clarke and Tony Kernan were added to when Kyle Brennan beat goalkeeper Ryan Clarke to the punch with the ball dropping just over the bar. A delivery into the game’s top scorer Ronan O’Neill saw him turn his marker and leave Paul Hearty helpless with a sublime finish to the net.   Cross would add points from John Murtagh (on after 5 minutes in place of an injured Kyle Carragher), Clarke and a Tony Kernan free before O’Neill landed his team’s first point from a free some 10 minutes after he had rattled the net.   A  Tony Kernan free and point number eight from Martin Aherne made it 1-8 to 1-1 after 22 minutes. Omagh fluffed a great goal chance as a too high hand pass across an open goal drifted wide of the upright following a move that had cut open the Rangers rear-guard.

Two minutes to the short whistle Cross grabbed a goal to put substance on the scoreboard that their opening half performance deserved. Tony Kernan off loaded the ball to the advancing Stephen Finnegan who drew a defender before releasing the ball to Ulster championship debutant Padraig Stuttard who showed great composure to blast the ball to the net to put his team 7 points in front. Jason McAnulla had the last point of the half to leave Omagh just  6 points behind with the wind at their backs for the second half.

Once Brennan opened the second half scoring the hosts threw off the shackles throwing caution to the wind, began getting in the faces of their opponents with suddenly the referee becoming the main man. A raft of yellow cards to Tony Kernan, Stephen Finnegan, Padraig Stuttard and Conor Meyler inside a minute followed O’Neill’s point for Omagh.  McAnulla then set up Conor O’Donnell who pointed to leave it 1-9 to 1-4 with 20 minutes remaining. Conor McMahon hit the Cross upright with a marvellous run from defence to attack saw Paul Hughes’ effort drop short into the keeper’s hands quickly followed by a Mickey McNamee wide. Cross introduced David McKenna for Brennan to help a malfunctioning midfield as Omagh were beginning to win all the battles from their goalkeeper up to the Rangers defence. Hearty made a good save from the troublesome McAnulla before for me the first real turning point of the second half occurred.

Cross were on the offensive with Jamie in possession when he was clearly fouled to give Cross an easy point opportunity but to everyone’s disbelief the referee not alone gave a free out but booked Clarke for protesting. To compound this injustice a defending Callum Cumiskey made a high challenge (he and defender Stephen Mullan were the first players booked on the umpires instructions 9 minutes into the game) which got him a black card and a dismissal. From the resultant free Conor Grugan reduced the deficit to 4 points 1-9 to 1-5 as  a worried Rangers introduced Aaron Kernan (who was laid low with a bug) to try and stem the Omagh tide with his steading influential keep ball style. Aaron was no sooner on than the fat was in the fire when Barry Tierney risked injury as he palmed the ball to the net after a fisted point attempt had dropped short into  his path he ended up colliding with the upright but it was worth it as he had reduced the deficit to the minimum with the vital goal.

Rangers reeling from that goal were sent into a real spin moments later when they were reduced to 13 following the dismissal of Tony Kernan for an off the ball incident. McAnella shot wide with Mickey Mac’s point attempt in a rare Cross raid falling short into the keeper. Once midfielder Grugan fired over the equalising point with 5 minutes left on the clock Cross, who had got out of many close encounters, were facing their biggest ever test. The next score would be the turning point for either team but it was to come from the boot of Rangers chief tormentor the excellent Ronan O’Neill with 2 minutes remaining Omagh had their noses in front for the very first time. Cross have not achieved all their triumphs without fighting qualities in the face of adversity and they fashioned one last chance of an equaliser when Aaron Cunningham on as a substitute for his skipper Johnny Hanratty beat keeper Clarke to the punch of a high ball but the ball sailed the wrong side of the upright and with it the chance to force extra-time. Omagh bombed forward Mullen shot a wide before my Man of the Match O’Neill finished off Cross with the game’s final point.

One cannot fault the winners who kept plugging away and overpowered the Rangers who did not help their own cause by their uncharacteristic performance on a day that got progressively worse as it went on

Crossmaglen Rangers Team: Paul Hearty, Stephen Finnegan, James Morgan, Paul Hughes, Padraig Stuttard(1-0) Paul McKeown, Callum Cumiskey,  Johnny Hanratty, Rico Kelly, Tony Kernan(0-3), Jamie Clarke (0-2),  Martin Aherne(0-1), Kyle Carragher, Michael McNamee, Kyle Brennan(0-2).

Sub: Murtagh(0-1) for Carragher, Kennan for Brennan, Cunningham for Hanratty.