Cross Cruise to Semis

November 13, 2012

Crossmaglen Rangers 3-11 St. Eunan’s 1-7

The contrast in styles of play was the talking point leading up to this Ulster club quarter final clash between the defending champions Crossmaglen Rangers and last week’s newly crowned Donegal champions St Eunan’s.

Even an early fifth minute goal for the champions failed to inspire them in the opening quarter as their lack of activity on the playing field showed but once they got a handle on the Donegal sides defensive tactics the champions cruised to a semi-final meeting with Tyrone champions Errigal Ciaran next weekend. The challengers trailed inside 50 seconds as fouls on David McKenna who fetched the throw-in from Fermanagh referee Martin Higgins and sent the free goal wards where the impressive Kyle Carragher was fouled leaving Aaron Kernan the simple task of opening the scoring from the resulting free. The lively Conal Dunne who sparkled for the first 20 minutes causing Cross a lot of bother levelled with a good point from play for Eunan’s.

The one man on the field you do not give room to operate in a free role capacity is Aaron Kernan which the Letterkenny to their ultimate cost deployed as they were too intent on doubling up on Jamie Clarke. Aaron got on the end of a Johnny Hanratty and Oisin McConville move to stare goalkeeper John Paul Clarke between the eyes before unselfishly hand passing across an empty net to allow Kyle Carragher notch the opening goal. Midpoint in the second half when Aaron again eyeballed keeper Clarke he coolly slotted the ball past him for Rangers second goal which effectively put the outcome to bed as it was the first score since the Donegal side had been reduced to 14 men following a second yellow on the instructions of the umpire for county final match winner half back Mark McGowan.

The challengers reacted in fine style to Rangers first green flag as the aforementioned McGowan pointed a free with Lee McMonagle repeating that feat before a splendid point from the hard working Ross Wherrity levelled matters 0-4 to 1-1 after 12 minutes. Three minutes later a foul on the well marshalled Clarke saw veteran Oisin McConville open his account as Cross, who were never headed, regained the lead. Aaron Kernan pointed a free given for over carrying in defence by Dunne. The underdogs wasted a glorious goal chance as Caolan Ward shot harmlessly wide with only Paul Hearty to beat. As yellow cards for Cross midfield duo McKenna and Hanratty were issued Clarke had a solo effort from an acute angle cleared off the goaline by team captain Michael Martin who was moved for this game from his accustomed full-back role. As the temperature on the field continued to rise, McGowan picked up the first of his ultimate costly yellow cards.

The game  briefly threatened to boil over into something nasty but as is usual this niggley play only brought out the best in the champions. Back in the starting 15 Paul Kernan broke up an attack to find Carragher who parted the leather to McKenna and the Rangers skipper dissected the posts. On the half hour Oisin was on the end of a 5 man move to slot over a vintage point from a near impossible angle. It was open season with players roaming everywhere so corner backs James Morgan and Paul Hughes sallied forward with Hughes notching the last point of the half to leave it 1-6 to 0-4 at the short whistle. Cross Rangers outscored their opponents 0-5 to nil in the second quarter.

Cross began the second half in business-like fashion with Jamie jinking, juggling the ball amongst a group of defenders before Oisin sent his point attempt wide. Minutes later an Oisin sideline ball was punched out for a “45” by the keeper Clarke with no danger looming and he was made pay the price for his error as Tony Kernan slotted over the needless “45” to open the second half scoring. Johnny Hanratty was just off target following a great move and from the kick –out Eunan’s pounced for a goal. Wherrity won the ball gave it to Rory Kavanagh who delivered a high ball into the square. John Harnan took full advantage of a Paul Kernan slip to hammer the ball literally through an unlucky Paul Hearty to make it a 3 point game 1-7 to 1-4 game on. Eunan’s immediately handed back the initiative as corner back Eddie Brennan bounced the ball twice gifting Oisin his third point of the afternoon immediately followed by a booming point for the Rangers Captain. James Morgan and Dunne were issued with yellow cards by ref Higgins who was then alerted by his umpire and McGowan saw yellow followed by red and his team were in real trouble 11 minutes into the half.

An astute move saw Mickey McNamee replace David McKenna with Stephen Kernan reverting to midfield. Stephen made an immediate impact in his new position taking a quick free to brother Aaron who had sailed unnoticed through the Donegal defence to seal their fate with his team’s second goal. It was to be his last piece of action as he was replaced by Ronan Finnegan having picked up a leg injury near the end of the first half. Wherrity fisted a Eunan’s point immediately cancelled by a 40 metre free from Oisin following a foul on McNamee. Conor O’Neill replaced Martin Aherne for Cross as keeper Clarke makes a great save to deny Aaron Cunnungham a goal at the end of a blistering six man move. Conor Gibbons points a free for the challengers for a foul on Harnan which leaves it 2-9 to 1-6 with 10 minutes left on the clock. Eunan’s kept plugging away gamely and it took good work defensively from McKeown and Paul Kernan to deny them a second goal. Callum Cumiskey and Paul Grant came in for Ulster debuts replacing Cunningham and McConville and both got themselves on the scoresheet. Cumiskey had the game’s last point while Grant showed his goal instinct calmly slotting home after great work and vision from Kyle Carragher.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; P Hughes (0-1), P Kernan , P McKeown; A Kernan (1-2), J Morgan, M Aherne; D McKenna (0-2), J Hanratty , K Carragher (1-00), S Kernan  T Kernan (0-1), J Clarke , A Cunningham, O McConville (0-4)   Subs: M McNamee for McKenna, R Finnegan for Aaron Kernan, Conor O Neill for Aherne, C Comiskey (0-1) for Cunningham, P Grant (1-0) for McConville.

Cross to lay Errigal Bogey

So hurdle one in Ulster easily negotiated by the champions. A much stiffer test awaits next week in the shape of Errigal Ciaran who have had two wins from their championship meetings with Cross in 1997 it was 1-12 to 1-10 and in 2002 it was 3-7 to 3-7 in Omagh, 1-10 to 1-10 in the replay at Cross and 1-13 to 1-10 in Clones.

Clones at 2-15pm next Sunday is the third instalment as Champions Cross set out to redress one of their failings thus far in this competition. Errigal will be on a high following their thrilling one point win over Ballinderry a fortnight ago. The Tyrone Champions squandered a 5 point lead before squeezing home in added time after their rivals had drawn level. Back from his sabbatical for the last match Errigal manager, Ronan McGuckin will have to plan without Damien McDermott who was red carded last time out. But the Ballinderry native has plenty of options with star man Peter Harte leading his charges. Harte is as vital to Errigal as Aaron Kernan is to Cross as he stars both in defence and attack and is a pivotal player. Either side of him stand Davy Harte and Stefan Tierney who form the solid foundation from which everything good from Errigal in terms of defence and attack springs from. With Tommy Cavanagh, Ciaran McGinley and full forward Brian Horisk all having the scoring touch it is easy to see why Errigal saw off the very stiff challenge of favourites Ballinderry.

On Sunday Rangers will be firm favourites to advance to the final and rightly so. The champions won’t carry any baggage from previous encounters as these players are a new Cross breed keen to stand on their own feet and make their own headlines. Boosted by the return from Australia of regular All-Ireland winning number 6 Danny O Callaghan Cross are a different animal once October football arrives. The Aaron Kernan injury might be a concern ahead of Sunday but brothers Paul and Stephen got a full 60 minutes under their belts which will be a help. On the plus side also is that Rangers racked up 3-11 against St Eunan’s with no scores coming from Jamie Clarke, Aaron Cunningham and Stephen Kernan. The key to Cross is their team ethic. Eunan’s targeted Clarke as the danger and policed him well but others prospered from this. Along with a very strong starting 15 Cross have perhaps the strongest bench in club football. They were able to roll out a number of young players in their championship campaign to date with each one looking more impressive with every outing. Paul Hughes and Kyle Carragher have slotted in as if veterans with Carragher causing a lot more problems for defences than some of his better known accomplished team mates.

Again midfield will be crucial with rival Captains David McKenna and Enda McGinley in this sector as Johnny Hanratty and Cormac McGinley make up the quartet. The Cross workrate and covering back starting with their attackers will be a vital ingredient for their success on Sunday. Rangers have the firepower and the bench to see them squeeze into yet another Ulster final. It will be tight, it always is, it’s the Crossmaglen Rangers modus operandum.