Clinical Crossmaglen Confirm Superiority

October 16, 2012

Crossmaglen Rangers 3-9 Pearse Ogs 0-11

The more things change, the more they stay the same must be a reasonable summation of Armagh football over the majority of the past two decades. While the personnel wearing the famous Black and Amber have changed drastically since Crossmagen lifted what was then their first county title in ten years back in 1996, the professional, capable and methodical manner in which they continue to crush opposition within the Orchard county has assumed an almost monotonous inevitability. Although the All-Ireland champions understandably entered the match as warm favourites, the feeling within the county was that Pearse Ógs were likely to mount a strong challenge to the south Armagh men’s superiority. Pearse Ógs must have entered this match in high spirits having been arguably the more impressive of the pair in the semi-finals as they demolished St Patrick’s while Crossmaglen laboured to a victory against unfancied Carrickcruppen.

An excellent crowd at the Athletic Grounds were treated to unseasonably favourable Autumnal conditions on a perfect day for football. They did not have to wait long for a score as Crossmaglen’s Johnny Hanratty provided his side with a morale boosting opening point within thirty seconds of the opening whistle. The blistering Crossmaglen start continued within a minute as Kyle Carragher marched through the Pearse Ogs defencebefore unselfishly slipping the ball to Jamie Clarke who produced an excellent finish for a vital Crossmaglen goal. Four points down against the All-Ireland champions with the clock not yet registering two minutes, Pearse Ógs fans must have been fearing the worst, however their side responded with vigour and courage.  The revival began two minutes in after direct tactics allowed Marc Cullen to fire over an opening point for the Armagh city men. The scores came thick and fast in the opening period and the Crossmaglen lead was reduced to two points three minutes into the match when a nice solo run from Conor Clarke allowed him to chip over a fine point for the Ógs. The game then threatened to develop into a bad-tempered affair as some tetchy scenes saw three yellow cards administered in the opening quarter with Crossmaglen’s Aaron Kernan and Kyle Carragher and Ogs captain JP Donnelly the recipients.

Ten minutes in, the lead was reduced to the minimum as Marc Cullen pointed a free for Ogs which had been relocated to a more scoreable position after dissent followed a foul on Sean Clarke. In the 11th minute a nice Jamie Clarke point restored his side’s two point advantage. Crossmaglen extended the cushion to three points 18 minutes in when Oisin McConville tapped over a free awarded after Darnell Parkinson was caught in possession for the Ogs. At that stage, it seemed as though Crossmaglen were beginning to exert a level of dominance however the final ten minutes of the half were to almost exclusively belong to Pearse Ogs as they kicked four points without response to allow thoughts to turn to a possible upset. Marc Cullen got the first of these scores, profiting from a good break forward by JP Donnelly while a magnificent Andy Mallon point from distance reduced the deficit to the minimum. Some patient attacking play three minutes before the break by the Ógs allowed Paul Duffy to fire over a fine score from all of 45 metres. Having just registered his first point, Duffy clearly developed a taste for the habit and repeated the dose within thirty seconds, winning possession from the Crossmaglen kick-out before embarking on a solo run which was to result in a well-taken point. This gave his side the lead for what turned out to be the first and only occasion in the match.

All great champions exhibit the trait of good timing and this Crossmaglen side showed again that they are masters of the art. Faced with the prospect of heading into the break behind to an Ógs side with all the momentum, Crossmaglen reacted in style as good work from Kyle Carragher found Jamie Clarke close to goal. Clarke displayed all his trademark elusivity to evade his marker and head ominously towards the net. As goalkeeper Ciaran McKinney emerged upon the Crossmaglen attacker, Jamie showed great presence of mind to find teammate Tony Kernan who had the simplest of tasks in palming the ball into an empty net.

This important blow gave Crossmaglen a barely deserved two point lead at the break on a scoreline of Crossmaglen 2-3 Pearse Ógs 0-7. While Pearse Ógs appeared to retain every chance of causing an upset, hindsight would confirm the suspicion that lingered at half-time, namely that to defeat a side like Crossmaglen, every period of dominance must result in a significant improvement on the scoreboard.

Hopes remained high amongst the Armagh City men early in the second half and they imitated the manner in which their opponents had commenced the first period, winning the ball from the throw in to create an Anto Duffy point. Stephen Kernan had made his return from a lengthy injury as a first half substitute and he exhibited no signs of ringrust early in the half as a magnificent pass found Oisin McConville close to goal. The veteran Crossmaglen forward showed all his customary style and panache to turn sharply and fire over a fine point. A pointed Marc Cullen free kept the Ogs well in the game however Crossmaglen seemed to realise the importance of not allowing their opponents to draw level again and Tony Kernan popped over a valuable point after a Kyle Carragher pass. Next the sides exchanged pointed frees through Aaron Kernan and Marc Cullen respectively.

Heading into the final quarter, the Crossmaglen lead was three points after a wonderful individual solo run from Stephen Kernan saw him register a magnificent score. The Ógs were determined to hang grimly to the champions’ coattails and they got back within two points when Tommy Turley benefitted from an Anto Duffy pass to point. Ten minutes from time the Ógs had a decent opportunity from a placed ball to reduce the deficit to the minimum. The kick sailed wide however and the suspicion that a crucial chance had been missed was confirmed within minutes as Crossmaglen countered with menace. The Rangers embarked on a wonderful hand-passing move which was well worthy of the ultimately crucial major score it produced, thanks to the deft reflexes of star performer Jamie Clarke. With the third goal secured, Crossmaglen were never likely to relinquish their five point lead in the latter stages and an Aaron Kernan free five minutes from time increased their advantage. Ógs did press forward trying to create a goal scoring opportunity, however ,their efforts were too often of the “Hail Mary” variety and were stoutly repelled by the Crossmaglen rearguard as Paul Hearty gave an assured performance between the sticks. Fittingly, the final score of the match went to a rampant Jamie Clarke as Crossmaglen finished comfortable victors on a scoreline of Crossmaglen 3-9 Pearse Ogs 0-11.

A delighted David McKenna sent his club’s fans into raptures as he lifted the Gerry Fagan Cup, promising in the process that Ulster and All-Ireland honours were also on the agenda as Crossmaglen aim to improve upon even their own previous achievements by achieving a historic third All-Ireland in a row. The old adage that goals win matches was never better exemplified than by this affair. Although Pearse Ogs often achieved parity in the territorial and possession stakes, they simply could not match the speed, agility and guile of the Crossmaglen forwards in front of goal. Man-of-match deservedly went to the irrepressible Jamie Clarke while he was ably assisted by fine performances from Kyle Carragher and the returning Stephen Kernan. The, as yet, unknown Donegal champions are next on the agenda for the Rangers however on Sunday’s evidence they will not be relinquishing their Ulster and All-Ireland titles softly. For the gallant but defeated Ógs side, Marc Cullen was probably their best performer on the day. On a final note, a word of congratulations should go to match referee, Wolfe Tones man Stephen Murray who produced an excellent display of officiating in keeping the lid on what was at times a tempestuous affair.

Crossmaglen: Paul Hearty;  Paul Hughes, James Morgan, Paul McKeown; Aaron Kernan (0-2), Brendan McKeown, Martin Ahern; Johnny Hanratty (0-1), David McKenna; Kyle Carragher, Oisin McConville (0-2), Tony Kernan (1-1); Jamie Clarke (2-2), Aaron Cunningham, Kyle Brennan. Subs Used: Stephen Kernan (0-1), Stephen Finnegan, Callum Cumiskey, Mel Boyce, Garvan Carragher

Pearse Ogs: Ciaran McKinney, Michael Carson, Gerard Barton, Gerard McCoy; Paul Duffy (0-2), Andy Mallon (0-1), Darnell Parkinson; Chris Rafferty, JP Donnelly; Anto Duffy (0-1), Conor Clarke (0-1), Sean Clarke; Tommy Turley (0-1), Kieran Hughes, Marc Cullen (0-5). Subs Used: Sean Moore, Sean Hughes.