O’Neill brothers breach the Coalface

November 5, 2018

 ● UCSFC Crossmaglen Rangers 0-12 v Coalisland Fianna 0-10

Following a bright opening quarter in which a few robust challenges went unpunished and Cross led 4-2, the second quarter turned into a war of attrition as cards became aplenty and before the short whistle sounded it was advantage 6-5 to Cross on the scoreboard and it was 15-13 in terms of players on the pitch to the Armagh champions. 

Trailing 4-3 after 24 minutes Coalisland the Tyrone champions suffered severely as they had 2 players red carded inside a minute. Monaghan referee Martin McNally issued Brian Toner a second yellow and was told of an off the ball incident by his umpire which resulted in corner-back Eoghan Hampsey receiving his marching orders with a straight red card. Rian O’Neill pointed the free awarded just prior to the red cards to give Cross a 5-3 lead with 5 minutes left till the short whistle.

The numerical advantage actually worked against Cross as they lost their way and a 2 point advantage as Coalisland from the boot of free-taker Patrick McNiece (who finished as the games top scorer with 8 pointed frees) drew them level for the third time in the half. But in the last minute of 4 added Rian O’Neill via a free gave Rangers the slender interval lead 6-5, having played with the aid of the breeze.

Impressive Coalisland skipper Stephen McNally had his team level seconds into the second half with a well taken point and 4 minutes later their situation improved further as despite being fouled by Michael McKernan who got a yellow card Callum Cumiskey on the instructions of the linesman got his second yellow for his actions as he fell towards McKernan from his challenge.

The 13 men hit the front via a McNeice free immediately followed by a great block by goalkeeper Peter Donnelly to deny teenage half-time substitute Cian McConville (in place of Mickey McNamee) a goal with a passing option available. Minutes later numerical supremacy was wiped out. Johnny Hanratty caught a high ball drifting wide, turned inside, but saw his shot brilliantly blocked by goalkeeper Donnelly with the loose ball fetched by Padraig Hempsey who was then caught around the neck by a frustrated Hanratty who collected a second yellow card and it was now a 13-a-side game.

Fouled in Rangers first attack Paudi Stuttard had to be replaced by Callum Cumiskey inside 2 minutes with the resulting free from Aaron Kernan coming back off the upright, fielded by Rian O Neill who offloaded to Johnny McKeever to open the scoring. Six minutes later McNiece levelled matters before midfielder Jason Carberry and Brian Toner combined to set up corner-forward Bailey Leonard for the lead score after 9 minutes. Mickey McNamee, from play restored parity for the second time with a converted “45” from Rian O’Neill and that lead was doubled following good work by Paul Hughes and Oisin O’Neill who placed his midfield partner Stephen Morris to point Cross 4-2 ahead on 14 minutes. Cross Captain Aaron Kernan will be exactly that as his clumsy challenge gifted McNiece his second point and also earned him a harsh yellow as ref McNally’s soft approach to proceedings had certainly altered.


13-a-side for the last quarter saw the quality of football improve greatly as Rangers were able to use the extra space to their advantage as they began to cause problems for a hitherto strong Coalisland defence. The Fianna attack which failed to function as a unit, with only one of their sextet scoring from play paid the price for their wrong shot options and wides as the O Neill brothers combined enabling Rian to level at 7 all on 46 minutes. Seasoned campaigner Tony Kernan was introduced by Cross in place of McKeever for his first outing since the group championship win over Silverbridge.

McNiece dusted himself down after being fouled to slot over his sixth free for a shortlived lead as Cian McConville offloaded to Oisin O’Neill who levelled the game for the sixth time at 8 points apiece. Rico Kelly brought off a great block on the elusive Peter Herron at the expense of a “45” which in turn was drilled wide by Cormac O’Hagan. With the clock showing 5 minutes left the best score of the match arrived from the boot of Rian O’Neill. From my vantage point in the press box his shot was aimed well wide of the upright but he had judged the wind to perfection as the ball dropped over Peter Donnelly’s crossbar to give Cross back the lead. Coalisland were not for throwing in the towel and following a foul on Herron, McNiece put the outcome back in the melting pot as he levelled the game for the seventh and final time.

A foul on Cian McConville allowed Rian O’Neill the chance to regain the lead for Rangers but he got the free all wrong hitting it well wide. Crucially Cross Captain Aaron punched the resulting midfield kick-out to Rian who made no mistake firing over the lead point. His opponent sporting the Captain’s armband came raiding for his second point but crucially dropped the ball before kicking it to Tiernan Quinn whose rushed shot was well off target. As the first of 4 added minutes was elapsing the O Neill’s were at it again as Rian gave it to Oisin who opened up a 2 point gap with his second point of the half. Rian had Cross supporters in “seventh heaven” as he took his personal tally to 7 but more importantly it put a goal between the teams which was the biggest gap between them in the match. With Coalisland throwing caution to the wind in search of a goal Aaron Kerrnan brilliantly intercepted a pass and sent Cross into the attack. As four Cross players bore down on goals skipper McNally was the lone defender in front of goalkeeper Donnelly (19 years ago was his last goalkeeping stint, you would not think it given his performances this year). Rian O Neill elected to go for goal but his net bound effort was excellently blocked by McNally and then resulted in a free out.

Coalisland had one last chance to force extra-time if they got a goal. They were awarded a free but ace marksman faced with a crowded goalmouth went for a blaster but the ball flew off his boot over the bar followed by the final whistle. Cross, just like in the Armagh final, put in another strong winning finish and will come on leaps and bounds from this hard earned win. The Black &Amber brigade are normally more clinical in front of goals but up against a very strong defence they did manage to notch 9 of their 12 scores from play in comparison to 2 from their opponents.

Next up for Crossmaglen Rangers will be a semi-final meeting with Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair who were 3-11 to 1-14 winners over Cargin of Antrim on Nov 18 venue and time TBC. Cross won in Ballybofey in 2006 against Gweedore 0-12 to 1-4

Crossmaglen – J McEvoy, R Kelly, A Farrelly, G Carragher; A Kernan, J Morgan, P Hughes; S Morris (0-1), O O’Neill (0-2); J McKeever (0-1), R O’Neill (0-7, 1’45, 2f), P Stuttard; M McNamee (0-1), J Hanratty, K Carragher. Subs: C Cumiskey for P Stuttard, C McConville for M McNamee, T Kernan for J McKeever.

Coalisland Na Fianna – P Donnelly; D Fee, P Hampsey, E Hampsey; M McKernan, S McNally (0-1), N Kerr; J Carberry, P Kane; P Herron, C O’Hagan, P McGahan; B Leonard (0-1), P McNiece (0-8f), B Toner. Subs: T Quinn for P McGahan, C Quinn for B Leonard.