Cross seeking home comfort

October 26, 2015

Ulster Senior Football Championship  Crossmaglen Rangers v Cargin sunday 1st november 2.30pm

Crossmaglen Rangers Ulster Club quarter final game with Antrim champions Erin’s Own, Cargin is a home game for the Armagh champions, who really wanted to feel at home by playing the game in their own ground St Oliver Plunkett Park instead of at the Athletic Grounds. Both grounds are designated County Grounds but the Ulster Council decreed that the game will take place at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday November 1st at 2-30pm.

With 10 Ulster titles under their belts Crossmaglen are favourites to re-claim the title they last held in 2012 after completing three-in-a-row. Hugely unimpressive up to reaching the County Final, Rangers gave a masterclass performance against Armagh Harps winning 2-22 to 0-10 to dispel any notion that the most successful club in modern day football are on the decline. In the company of a well-known ginger custodian whose famed quip was “come on the wangers” he asked me about the upcoming Armagh final and I said Cross had not been playing too well and without Aaron Kernan and Jamie Clarke there could be a bit of value in Harps at evens +5. How very far off the mark I was, with few seeing what was coming down the line, as the defending county champions raced to an even bigger margin (18 points victory) than the year before against the same opposition. One has to go back to 1982 to find a Crossmaglen Rangers Senior final losing outfit 0-6 to 0-4 to Carrickcruppen and since then they have won 20 titles with the 2015 win their 19th in 20 years. Next up is a competition the Ulster Club where Cross have an unequalled final record of having played 10 won 10.

Sunday is the first hurdle of what could be a very busy and fruitful month of November with the semi-final against Kingscourt or Kilcoo on Sunday Nov 15 and the final a fortnight later on Nov 29. Firstly though Cross have to get past Cargin who are celebrating their first Antrim Senior success since 2006 following their nine-point win over Lamh Dhearg 2-11 to 1-5 at Ahoghill yesterday. Midfielder Michael McCann was spot on for the winners as he converted penalties in either half, that after his team mate Thomas McCann had missed their first awarded penalty. Cargin, having ousted champions St Gall’s earlier in the championship were never in any danger in the county final ahead 1-7 to 1-3 at the short whistle even the loss of two goal hero (yellow, black) which reduced them to 14 men did not detract them from winning with more than a bit to spare. Half forwards Ciaran Close (0-5) and Tomas McCann (0-4) accounted for 9 points with the other two of their overall total of 11 coming from the boot of half-back Paul McCann. The starting Cargin full forward line in the final failed to contribute to the scoreboard.

In their semi-final win over Maghery it was Cross Rangers turn to not have a score from their full forward line but in the final it contributed 1-5 as the champions posted 10 different scorers in their tally of 2-22. Both sets of full back lines will not be expecting anything easy come Sunday.

These two clubs crossed swords in this competition back in 1999 with the game played at Clones. Current Rangers Captain Paul Hearty is the sole survivor from that day and the skipper will remember just how difficult a game Cargin gave the then reigning Ulster and All-Ireland champions. Cross were narrow 1-10 to 0-11 winners over the totally unfancied Antrim Champions.

As far as the bookies and general public are concerned the task facing Cargin sixteen years later is no different, they are deemed as rank outsiders to stop Cross from progressing to the last four. Under former Derry manager John Brennan one will expect nothing but 100% total commitment and a belief that they can cause the upset. Although his Cargin side are relatively young they have shown great maturity in winning three tough Antrim championship matches against St Gall’s, Creggan and Lamh Dhearg. Cargin are a strong mobile outfit with seasoned inter-county experience on board to help their up and coming stars.

When it comes to experience there is no one more qualified than the Rangers as their phenomenal record suggests. Seemingly struggling through Armagh when the first real test of 2015 presented itself in the County Final Cross were not only able to step it up a gear but up gears to which many thought that was slipping away from them. Aidan Rushe playing at number 3 snuffed out the chief danger Gareth Swift with ease and his halftime substitution through injury did not hamper his contribution to the comfortable win. Aidan was replaced by county minor Oisin O’Neill who marked his first final appearance with an accomplished display and added a point to the scoreboard. Shane Farrelly was another minor introduced in the second half with yet another youth in Diarmuid McConville getting a second half outing. On top of those substitutions the lively Garbhan Carragher replaced goalscorer Rico Kelly, the experienced Aaron Cunningham along with long term injured Danny O’Callaghan also saw some second half game time against the Harps.

Defenders Paul Hughes (Man of the Match), Stephen Finnegan, Martin Aherne, Paul McKeown and James Morgan totally nullified the Harps attack. Midfield duo Johnny Hanratty and David McKenna had it all their own way the last day out but John Carron and Michael McCann will give them as easy a time next Sunday. Rangers forwards, with Rico Kelly on the edge of the square, flanked by Kyle Carragher and John Murtagh, combined terrifically well with the Kernan brothers Stephen and Tony and the always reliable Mickey McNamee cut the Harps defence to shreds with pace power and accuracy.

Cross have been dogged all year with injuries and are slowly coming to full strength. Aaron Kernan who missed the County Final is back in contention for a starting berth on Sunday. The Armagh champions are resigned to an Ulster Campaign without Jamie Clarke but this is nothing new for them and they will get on with the job in hand –winning another Ulster title with whatever players are at their disposal at the time. The Rangers bench is getting stronger with some vastly experienced players becoming available again, more worrying though is the bench is being added to by quality young players following back to back minor championships.

The Armagh champions are getting wind in their sails as they rev up for another Ulster campaign and a full in flight Rangers will be hard to stop. Even though the loughshore men from Antrim have experienced many a gale the power of the Cross will blow them out of the 2015 Ulster campaign. Given the direct football nature of both teams this could be a very good footballing contest but in the end even though it might be a lot closer than many expect Crossmaglen to book their place in the semi-finals in a fortnights time.