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Cross continue to find that little bit extra

Ulster Senior Football Championship Crossmaglen Rangers 2-17 Scotstown 2-12 (AET)

Crossmaglen Rangers had the extra gear and bench to see off a gallant Scotstown pulsating encounter in atrocious weather conditions at the Athletic Grounds to capture their eleventh Ulster title.

It has to be hats off to both sets of players who inspite of terrible playing conditions, driving wind and rain, continued to play open attacking football and even though three red cards where brandished this was far from a dirty match, a game that ebbed and flowed from end to end.

By the end of the first quarter Scotstown led 1-3 to 0-2 but by the time the short whistle sounded Cross led 1-6 to 1-3. With the sides level with 1-9 apiece in the 53rd minute Rangers Danny O’Callaghan was issued with a straight red with 2 minutes of added time just announced Shane Carey bagged the equaliser from a free for the Monaghan men taking the game into extra time after it ended 1-10 each.

Rangers back to the full compliment for extra time fell behind for the first time since the 9th minute but by half time in extra time had forged a 1-13 to 1-11 lead with the red carding of the influential Kieran Hughes a game changer. The second period of extra time saw a huge mistake from Scotstown keeper Rory Beggan punished to the full with a goal from Kyle Carragher and by the time substitute Brian McGinnity pulled a goal back for Scotstown the Seamus McFerran Cup was on its way to Crossmaglen.

Two late red cards, one straight for Darren Hughes and two yellows for his marker James Morgan were cosmetic exercises.

Despite the atrocious weather, supporters from far and wide descended on the Athlectic Grounds to watch a proper game of football played by two attacking teams who buck the national trend of the defensive negative.

What we were given was a whole hearted totally committed performance from both teams with the fresher legs of the Ulster kingpins, Cross, shining through in the 20 minutes of extra time needed to separate the sides.

Scotstown played as selected but Cross made one change, introducing John Murtagh for Aaron Cunningham, from the side that started against Kilcoo. The Cross reshuffle brought Rico Kelly to mid-field with Murtagh slotting into the corner and minor star Oisin O’Neill manning the edge of the square.

The game got off to a bizarre start, with danger man Darren Hughes getting one of the numerous frees he received throughout the game. Conor McCaherty kicked the free wide of the upright but Rangers captain and keeper elected to punch the ball which went out for a 45. Hearty’s opposite number Rory Beggan opened the scoring from the 45′ but it was the only free he converted for the remainer of the game despite getting more than a handful of more attempts.

Aaron Kernan placed Mickey McNamee for a levelling point quickly followed by the lead point for Cross after Kyle Carragher, Rico Kelly and Tony Kernan interchanged the ball to enable Stephen Kernan to point.

The Scotstown tactic was simple to get the ball and deliver it straight to Darren Hughes. It paid dividends in the 9th minute as his marker James Morgan misjudged the bounce of the ball leaving the Scotstown marksman the opportunity to slot the ball past Hearty to the net 1-1 to 0-2. Aaron Kernan went down, with what looked like a game threatening injury, but determined not to be replaced Aaron re-joined the game in which he played a major part in victory. After the game Aaron had to go to hospital to be checked out after becoming unwell. Brother Stephen was fortunate that the card shown to him by referee Benny Cassidy from Derry was yellow not red as Scotstown added to their lead through Orin Heaphey 14 minutes.

Three minutes later Stephen Kernan set up John Murtagh for Rangers third point followed by a fisted effort from Kyle Carragher as he bore down on goal.  Twenty one minutes into the game John Murtagh finished off a five man move with his second point of the game to restore parity 0-5 to 1-2. Three minutes left in the half, another soft free to Hughes enabled Shane Carey regain the lead for Scotstown but the reply was instant and telling from Cross. The very influential, until having to retire throught injury, Martin Aherne, busted forward and passed to Mickey McNamee who spotted the on-running Tony Kernan who calmly slotted the ball into the corner of the net with his left foot past a helpless Beggan, 1-5 to 1-3. A foul on Kyle Carragher enabled Tony Kernan to complete the first half scoring.

Cross lost midfielder Johnny Hanratty for the second half, replaced by David McKenna but it did not upset the flow as Kyle Carragher opened the second half scoring. Scotstown replied with points from Morgan and two from Carey. Rangers introduced Stephen Finnegan and Jamie Clarke for Aidan Rushe and Oisin O’Neill as Monaghan keeper saved point blank from Murtagh at the expense of a point.

Full-Back Emmett Caulfield pointed and a super point from Conor McCarthy had Scotstown level on 45minutes. Two minutes later Tony Kernan converted a free following a foul on the raiding Morgan. Danny O’Callaghan replaced Martin Aherne but had a short shift picking up a straight red a few minutes after being introduced. Aaron Kernan got a yellow as Carey pointed the leveller. Fourteen man Cross grabbed a precious lead as a nerveless Tony Kernan pointed a free. Carey from a placed ball brought the game to extra time.

Carey then gave Scotstown the lead with the first point of extra time while a classy effort from substitute Callum Cumiskey levelled manners. As Hughes saw red, two more converted frees from Man of the Match Tony Kernan left Cross 1-13 to 1-11 in front at the break.

Conor McCarthy from a free reduced the deficit to the minimum but a David McKenna point doubled the lead. A short kick-out by Beggan was punished as substitute Padraig Stuttard won a great ball and set Kyle Carragher in for the killer goal. Stuttard helped himself to a point and then made a superb block at the other end.  After the McGinnity goal the Kernan brothers Tony (finished with 1-6) and Aaron both from placed balls finished the scoring for a 2-17 to 2-12 win and the continuation of Rangers’ unbeaten Ulster Final record. Title number 11.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; P Hughes, A Rushe, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-1), M Aherne, J Morgan; J Hanratty, R Kelly; M McNamee (0-1), S Kernan (0-1), T Kernan (1-6); O O’Neill, J Murtagh (0-3), K Carragher (1-2). Subs: D McKenna (0-1) for Hanratty (HT), S Finnegan for Rushe (35), J Clarke for O’Neill (40), C Cumiskey (0-1) for Kelly (45), D O’Callaghan for Aherne (51), A Cunningham for McNamee (54), G Carragher for O’Callaghan (61), P Stuttard (0-01) for Cunningham (61), K Brennan for Murtagh (71) D McConville for S Kernan (75), A Cunningham for K Carragher (76).

Scotstown: R Beggan (0-1); D McArdle, E Caulfield (0-1), P Keenan; M Duffy, K Hughes, F McPhillips; F Caulfield, J Turley; O Heaphey (0-1), D Morgan (0-01), C McCarthy (0-2); S Carey (0-6), D Hughes (1-0), R McKenna. Subs: B Boylan for McPhillips (30), D McCague for McKenna (44), B McGinnity (1-0) for Heaphy (49).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)