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Talented Gweedore test for Cross

November 12, 2018

 ● UCSFC Crossmaglen Rangers v Gaoth Dobhair (Gweenore) Healy Park Omagh Sunday Nov 18th at 3.30pm

Following respective quarter-final wins of Coalisland and Cargin, Crossmaglen Rangers will take on Donegal champions Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) in the second match of a double header at Healy Park, Omagh at 3-30 pm. The other semi-final featuring Scotstown (Monaghan) winners over both Derrygonnelly (Fermanagh) and Burren (Down) and Eoghan Rua, Coleraine (Derry) who beat Castlerahan (Cavan) will be the curtain raiser at 1-30 pm.

This will be the second meeting in the Ulster Club Championship between Cross and Gweedore with the Rangers winning 0-12 to 1-4 at Ballybofey back in 2012, the last time until this year in which Gweedore won the County Title. Cross have Aaron and Tony Kernan, Johnny Hanratty, Mickey McNamee, David McKenna and Paul McKeown on board whilst Gweedore have the McGee brothers Neil and Eamon, Kevin Cassidy and Christopher McFadden in their squad since the last meeting of the teams.

All-stars Neil McGee (3 awards) and Kevin Cassidy (2 awards) along with Eamon McGee are the older generation and more high profile of their players but it is the addition of current county players Odhran MacNiallais, Kieran Gillespie, Michael Carrol and Cian Mulligan which has heralded the Gaeltacht Men already as one of the most exciting club sides in Donegal for quite some time. Gaoth Dobhair’s excellent U-21 team won the Ulster title last year which was a huge boost to the club and they have eight top quality players who are 22 or under.

Team manager Mervyn O’Donnell in his second year in charge has been dealt a cruel blow as exciting centre-half back Kieran Gillespie has been ruled out long term for both club and county after incurring a cruciate injury in the win over Cargin.On the plus side for O’Donnell he is expected to have Odhran MacNiallais (broken thumb) and Odhran McFadden Ferry(dead leg) back for the Cross game having missed the quarter-final win over Cargin.

Like the Donegal County Final win over Naomh Conaill the win over Cargin was also a game of two halves. The Magheragallon men impressed in the second half of the county final as they triumphed 0-17 to 1-7 having led by the minimum 7-6 at the short whistle. Against Cargin, a blistering first half in which they held a commanding 2-10 to 0-6 interval lead, saw the Donegal champions just add 1-1 in the second half to defeat the Antrim champions by 3-11 (20) to 1-13 (16).

The Cross v Coalisland game was a funny sort of game in that the 4 red cards and dozen yellow cards dished out paints the picture of a dirty game but not so with the referee failing to come to grips with the totally contrasting styles of the 2 teams. Cross were trying to play their close marking fast ball delivery game with Coalisland from a strong defensive base carrying the ball into the tackle in a counter attacking style. Coalisland will point to their wides tally as a reason for their defeat but in truth a lot of those efforts were poor shot choices under pressure and a return of 2 points from play over the hour was to be their undoing.

missed goal opportunities by Rangers kept Coalisland in contention right to the final whistle but like in the Armagh County Final a very strong last 10 minutes from Cross saw them over the line. Worryingly for Cross management was their inability to cope with the 2 extra-men, plus the fact that 8 of the Coalisland scores came from frees (Cross got 2 from frees) and only the O’Neill brothers Oisin (0-2) and Rian (0-4) were their second half scorers.

ULSTER CLUB A DIFFERENT BALL GAME

While the Gaeltacht men do not have their Crossmaglen Rangers vast array of Ulster Club experience and medals, they have a very solid core of physically powerful, pacey players who have all played at some level of county football and will have gained a lot from the win over Cargin.

Traditionally Cross have gotten stronger as the championship progresses and despite their very impressive track record in the competition they had a half dozen players experiencing their first game in the AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championship. Rangers newcomers will now know that Ulster Club football is a different ball game in comparison to Armagh club football. A lot of people do not realise that winning back the County title was the top priority for Cross this year and despite their undoubted pedigree they are now in bonus territory playing in an Ulster semi-final.

On Sunday Cross will have to get to grips with midfielder Odhran MacNiallais who is playing the football of his career and weighed in with 8 points in the County final. In the twilight of his career veteran Kevin Cassidy operating at full-forward has found a new lease of life orchestrating and exhorting his youthful forwards as well as showing that he has an eye of goals as well as being the fulcrum of their attack. Cross defenders will also have to be alert to the lightning quick Cian Mulligan and the ability of recognized finishers Daire O’Baoill, Naoise O’Baoill, Michael Carroll and Eamon Collum who is the teams top scorer in the championship.

Manager O Donnell will have to alter his very strong defensive unit commanded by three times All Star Neil McGee at full back, specialist man marker Christopher McFadden and the mobile Niall Friel following the loss of Kieran Gillespie. He will be able to recall Odhran McFadden Ferry who might be slotted in at number 6. The loss of Gillespie disrupts a very strong central spine of McGee (3), Mac Niallis (9), McGee (11) and Cassidy (14). On top of that O’Donnell’s charges discipline has been excellent and they have gone about their business with the minimum of fuss and have arrived at the semis in Ulster under the radar. As they face up to Crossmaglen only now are people talking of this team becoming only the second ever Donegal club after St Joseph’s 1975 as Seamus McFerran Cup winners.

Rightly so Cross will go into Sunday’s match as slight favourites but they will know that improvement on the last day out will be necessary if they are to prevail. To be fair to Cross, when the game was there to be won as in the county final, they won both convincingly in the end. Discipline will be the key for Cross as they surrendered their numerical advantage to two silly challenges by experienced players who were already on yellow cards notwithstanding the 8 pointed frees.

Like Gaoth Dobhair, Rangers seasoned campaigners have matured like a vintage wine. Team Captain Aaron Kernan has been inspirational, Johnny Hanratty, Kyle Carragher and Mickey McNamee have all helped guide the younger brigade to a first championship medal, rolling back the years, playing great football and an appetite for further glory. Bench wise Cross have Tony Kernan and David McKenna waiting in the wings to complete the roll call of aged experience .

But Cross play, win, lose as a unit and here is where for me they have the advantage over their Donegal opponents. Rico Kelly, James Morgan (one of the best man markers) Garvan Carragher, Paul Hughes, Aidan Rushe, Padraig Stuttard, Callum Cumiskey have all seen plenty of game time against some of the best players and teams in the country and are mean keen and hungry for more.

 

The Donegal champions have got talented youngsters but none to equal the impact that the O’Neill brothers Oisin and Rian are having for Cross at present. The duo have influenced Cross underage teams all through and even at their age are asserting themselves at Senior level. Both O’Neills scored points in the second half against Coalisland which should be one and two in scores of the year such were their quality. The duo can expect man marking at its best on Sunday and it will need to be to subdue their game changing influences.

Goalkeeper Jamie McEvoy devoid of a second ball distraction (very unsporting) will have to get back to his previous quality of delivery which will be very important around a very crowded midfield area. Like their goalkeeper, Alan Farrelly, Stephen Morris and Johnny McKeever have come through their first Ulster test with success, leaving confidence high as the next step of their progression awaits. There has been no rest for Rangers u-21 brigade who had to play a championship match (which they won) on Sunday some 18 hours after Saturday night and face another outing the next Sunday, as they try to keep their hopes of adding the u-21 title to the Senior and Minor already won. It seems that being successful and trying to bring glory to your County is irrelevant to the fixture makers.

Given the array of talent that will be on the pitch it is not surprising that the bookies make it a close call. It promises to be a cracking game of open attacking football which is a novelty especially when one is talking about a Donegal team being involved. Akin to Donegal County team Gweedore are changing their men behind the ball approach to the game.

The only negativity I have with regards to this match is that it is the second part of a double header at a time of year when the weather can be so unpredictable. Still the call has been made on a double header which whets the appetite.

Both management teams have plenty of homework to do in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. For me Cross are a bit like they were back in 2006 on a learning curve and we know what that led to, a hat-trick of Ulster titles with Donal Murtagh on the sideline. Sunday will be the acid test thus far this year but I believe that Cross will not come up against a better defence, no matter if the continue to advance, than the sextet they faced in victory over Coalisland.

Crossmaglen Rangers will need all their vast experience to withstand the early Gweedore pressure and in yet another tight game their renowned strong last 10 minutes will tell the tale as they progress to yet another Ulster Final.

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