Perfect 10

December 4, 2012

Once again Crossmaglen Rangers are the kingpins of Ulster as they claimed their tenth title in 17 years with a 3-09 to 1-09 over Kilcoo at a well-attended Athletic Grounds, Armagh. The defending Ulster and All-Ireland champions displayed the sublime and the ridiculous in the opening half, withstood a stirring second half fight back from the rank outsiders, showing grit and their vast experience to survive and despite being reduced to 13 players finish on the ascendency.

Down champions Kilcoo talked the talk in the lead up to the game but all of their best made plans were torn to shreds in a disastrous opening 5 minutes which saw them trail by 7 points which ultimately proved fatal at the final whistle. From the throw-in Cross were on the front foot with a foul on team captain David McKenna allowing Stephen Kernan find Kyle Carragher, operating at full forward, with his lay off to Aaron Kernan just going out over the end line. Kilcoo did not heed the danger signs as 2 minutes later a similar move through Carragher was offloaded to Clarke who parted to Stephen Kernan but before he got on the end of the ball he was tripped by Gerard McEvoy for a penalty with the defender picking up the game’s first yellow card. Elder statesman Oisin McConville took the responsibility from the spot with keeper Stephen Kane getting his hands to the shot but could not push it around the post. Before you could draw breath the opening move of the game was replicated but this time Aaron Kernan got to the ball and the second green flag was raised. The goal from Aaron was the fiftieth Ulster Championship goal Cross has scored. Full back Paul Kernan played a long ball to his brother Tony and he duly supplied the opening point of the match to make it 2-01 to nil and only 5 minutes gone. A rout looked on the cards as Kilcoo were at sea all over the park but a Paul Devlin free for their first score settled them a little.

Kilcoo caught like a rabbit in the headlights found no respite as Aaron Cunningham placed Stephen Kernan for a point followed by a monster 50 yard free from Oisin. Stephen Kernan plundered his second point before Kyle Carragher pointed a good goal chance following a four man move. On 18 minutes Cunningham got in on the scoring to make the score 2-6 to 0-1 and no way back for the sorrowful magpies, so it seemed. Back between the sticks after missing the semi-final through sickness Paul Hearty from Gerard McAvoy and following an 18 minute barren spell Kilcoo got their second point, another free converted by Darragh O’Hanlon. Hamstring victim Stephen Kernan was replaced by Mickey McNamee and the pendulum swung in favour of the underdogs as the Champions became very careless with their passing. Anthony Devlin received a handy free converted by namesake Paul 2-6 to 0-3 which was to remain to the short whistle. Cross had failed to score in the last 12 minutes of the half while Kilcoo failed to score from play for the entire half. The Down Champions could draw a glimmer of hope from Warrenpoint in the preceding match as they came from behind to force extra-time when all had looked lost.

The Champions began the second half like the first with Aaron Kernan from a free following a foul on the raiding James Morgan extending their lead. But the score that again put double digits between the teams acted as a signal for Kilcoo to throw caution to the wind and a decision to go down fighting with their boots on. Donal Kane notched their first score from play and inspired his team to add a further 1-3 without reply as they enjoyed their period of dominance. Pointed frees from O’Hanlon and Paul Devlin followed before the elusive Conor Laverty deftly supplied the ball to Anthony Devlin and he fired past Hearty for a tonic goal 1-6 to 2-7. Clarke was denied a Cross goal as McNamee got a straight red card for alleged striking and Cunningham picked up a yellow card as he reached boiling point for reasons detailed elsewhere. The challengers had the bit between their teeth further buoyed by the departure of Rangers towering full back Paul Kernan with an injury replaced by Danny O’Callaghan for his first Championship outing since the All-Ireland final replay with Garrycastle following his sojourn to Australia. A third pointed free from O’Hanlon had the lead whittled down to just a kick of the ball 2-7 to 1-7 and the hitherto sorrowful magpies looked set to pinch more glory just like they did in the semi-final against St Gall’s.

A sideline fracas interrupted the flow and proved detrimental as Cross just seem to thrive following those physical confrontations. The Champions were given lift-off  by the tiff as they upped the tempo of their play, regained their composure and got back to the way they know best, when the going gets tough the tough get going as they have shown over the years. Martin Aherne, who was excellent go on the end of an Oisin pass to stick over a very important point that put two scores between the sides it also ended over a half hour’s play in which the Champions had scored just a solitary point. Callum Cumiskey replaced Carragher who faded after a very bright start with Kilcoo introducing Feilim McGreevy for Jerome Johnston and James McClean for goalscorer Devlin. With five minutes left on the clock a foul on Oisin enabled Aaron Kernan extend the lead to 5 points 2-9 to 1-7. Jamie Clarke picked up a second yellow and Cross were down to 13 as Kyle Brennan replaced Cunningham for Cross and Sean Devlin came on for Donal Kane for Kilcoo. On the stroke of the hour Ahern brilliantly dispossessed Aidan Brannigan as Kilcoo tried to advance in numbers out of defence. Inside Aherne in acres of space all alone was Oisin. Martin advanced with the ball gave it to Oisin and as he drew keeper Kane he passed across goal to substitute Brennan who had made up terrific ground to join the attack he punched the ball into an empty net for a goal with his first touch that sealed the title. Ronan Finnegan replaced Hughes in the Rangers defence.

Just as Tony McEntee had said pre-match Kilcoo would go to the final whistle they did just that and finished with the last two points as O’Hanlon took his tally to four with his first point from play followed by one from substitute Ryan Johnston to leave the final score 3-9 to 1-9. Kilcoo will point to their terrible start as the reason for their defeat and will be more than satisfied that they made a game of it following that dreadful start.

Cross being Cross are well known idlers once in a big lead but when push came to shove they knew the gears to click into to get themselves out of trouble. Although they will not complain, they did not seem to get a fair return from the referee who was put under the spotlight during the week by Kilcoo manager Jim McCorry. Rangers team have given their management plenty to work with in the months ahead following their performance against Kilcoo which will allow for no complacency especially now that O’Callaghan is back looking for his starting berth.

As usual the Champions make hard work of winning but now have made it Championship win number 28 under Tony and Gareth. Feb 17 against old rivals Connacht Champions for the third year in a row Roscommon’s finest St Brigid’s will be keen to avenge two previous defeats. For now Crossmaglen Rangers can bask in their second Ulster treble which takes their Ulster final record to the perfect 10 out of 10

Kilcoo: Stephen Kane; Niall Branigan, Aidan Branigan, Darragh O’Hanlon 0-4; Sean O’Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy, Daryl Branigan; Ryan Johnstone 0-1, Paul Greenan; Donal Kane 0-1, Paul Devlin 0-3, Gary McEvoy; Jerome Johnstone, Anthony Devlin 1-0, Conor Laverty.

Subs Sean Devlin, Felim McGreevy, James McClean

Crossmaglen: Paul Hearty; Paul Hughes, Paul Kernan, Paul McKeown; Aaron Kernan 1-1, James Morgan, Martin Aherne 0-1; Johnny Hanratty, David McKenna; Kyle Carragher 0-1, Stephen Kernan 0-2, Tony Kernan 0-1; Jamie Clarke, Aaron Cunningham 0-1, Oisin McConville 1-2.

Subs Callum Cumiskey, Kyle Brennan 1-0, Danny O’Callaghan, Michael McNamee, Ronan Finnegan.