Heroic Carrickcruppen reach County Final

July 20, 2015

Richard Bullick

Carrickcruppen are favourites to take their third county title in six seasons after overcoming adversity and holders Clann Eireann 0-13 to 0-9 in a blistering Mackin’s Senior Championship semi-final.

In spite of having to play half the match at a numerical disadvantage, heroic ’Cruppen prevailed and will now meet Armagh Harps, who comfortably beat Grange 2-15 to 1-7 in the other semi at Clonmore.

Reduced to 14 players by a controversial sending off, Barry Flynn’s ladies dug deep with iconic captain Caroline O’Hanlon imperiously leading by example backed by willing lieutenants like Sinead Finnegan while talented youngster Dearbhail McCullough got four points.

Everybody expected a reasonably niggly grudge game between the county’s established Big Two but spectators were ’Cruppen’s Marian McGuinness was shown a straight red card after a seemingly innocuous clash with her county colleague Mags McAlinden.

McGuinness simply appeared to be forcibly freeing herself from illegal interference and provocative obstruction by McAlinden who was standing on her foot as she tried to quickly take a free already awarded against the Clann Eireann forward for a high tackle.

Whatever the technicalities about whether there might have been a minor offence committed, it seemed an extraordinary decision by Armagh’s highest-profile referee Kieran McKeever.

His exceptionally controversial call lacked a feel for the context of fierce rivalry between these teams and, but for Carrickcruppen regrouping so well after being understandably unsettled, could have badly distorted what was always likely to be a compelling contest.

It was a bad decision in football terms and although thankfully it didn’t determine the outcome of the biggest game of the domestic season, the red card came as a crushing blow at a personal level for the amiable McGuinness who has subsequently been banned for a month.

This had all the ingredients of a blood-and-guts classic cup tie in any sport, a high stakes shootout which was fast and furious, feisty and ferocious but there was no need for a red card which could have ruined this contest.

McAlinden and McGuinness are two hugely experienced players completely passionate about their respective clubs, presumably frustrated from a lack of Armagh action the previous weekend and both physically capable of fighting their own corner.

A strong referee should have kept an eye on them and simply had a stern word with both if things threatened to boil over, with a sinbin sanction up his sleeve if the warnings weren’t heeded.  As someone used to officiating at inter-county level, McKeever shouldn’t have feared losing control.

To rub salt in the wounds, O’Hanlon had to put up with a succession of often fairly hefty fouls by opponents who couldn’t cope with her runs, without a yellow card being brandished.

The All-Ireland Player of the Year was simply immense as she used all her experience to control the tempo, orchestrate superbly and take charge of the football for prolonged periods but there was scant protection for her.

Clann Eireann were without Armagh’s Niamh Henderson in the middle of the field but that was cancelled out by the late withdrawal from the ’Cruppen side of another current county star Caitlin Malone with a stomach bug.

With Malone missing and McGuinness gone early, the onus was on the auxiliary leaders such as Finnegan to shoulder responsibility and they duly did so in support of the outstanding O’Hanlon who got through a mountain of work all over the field.

If Finnegan felt she had a point to prove after her excruciatingly early substitution for Armagh three days before in the Ulster semi-final she certainly did so in emphatic fashion with an all-action, dynamic display which underlined her worth to this team.

Fresh from an impressive performance in the recent League game between the sides and playing like a woman possessed, the experienced campaigner really hit the heights here just when her club badly needed heroes.

Rebecca O’Reilly ran a tight ship at the back and her clean catch of a high ball in the closing stages while surrounded by four forwards was one of several defining moments.

The front six and regular forward Megan Cinnamond who was listed in midfield this time all got on the scoresheet, O’Hanlon and teenage newcomer McCullough topping the charts with four points each though the latter also came close to a goal when striking the base of the far post.

Half O’Hanlon’s scores came from frees, the first following her captaincy counterpart Laura Brown being sinbinned and the second to put ’Cruppen back in front by six points to five late in the first half having weathered the red card storm.

Youngster Orla Garvey added another point to double the interval lead and ’Cruppen also won the second half by a two-point margin with McCullough rattling off the last three scores of a memorable evening for the Camlough club.

The Intermediate decider will be between last season’s beaten finalists Lissummon and the 2013 Junior champions Shane O’Neill’s after convincing victories in their respective semi-finals.

Level on 2-7 each with fellow Division One newcomers Sarsfields at the interval with captain Aimee Mackin having got her team’s entire tally, Shane’s impressively pulled clear in the second half to win by 6-10 to 2-9.

The only Second Division side left in the competition Lissummon comfortably beat Ballyhegan 3-17 to 0-6, Sarah Gamble leading the way with 2-5, and now will have the chance to exorcise last September’s heartbreak when they lost to a Silverbridge goal in the last half minute of injury-time in the final.

Mullaghabawn beat St Paul’s of Lurgan in the Mackin’s Junior Championship quarter-finals and will now play St Peter’s who saw off Mullabrack but Dorsey lost at Pearse Og while Granemore won at Clann na Gael.