By Manus Loughran
St. Patrick’s Cullyhanna gave Crossmaglen Rangers their closest contest to date in this year’s Senior Championship but fell short as Cross managed to squeeze out a six point victory despite being far from their best.
It was a stuttering performance from Crossmaglen as they never really looked to be in full flow, although the current holders proved their strengths as they always seemed to be in control of the game despite the dodgy form. The county stars were the stand out performers with Jamie Clarke orchestrating from centre half forward and Aaron Kernan covering endless ground and finishing the match with a tally of four points. Cullyhanna did put a lot of heart into this performance and they were motivated by their boisterous support throughout, but any time they got within touching distance of their rivals, Cross just seemed to pull away.
St. Patricks hit two wide in the opening minutes and instantly there were worrying murmurs that chances like that would need to be taken if they were to get earn that place in the Final. Kieran Hoey eventually opened the scoring with a marvellous left footed effort.
This turned out to be the only stage of the game in which Cullyhanna held the lead. Jamie Clarke equalised with a point from play and Armagh’s star man set up Aaron Kernan to put Crossmaglen in front soon after.
Aaron Kernan got his second score from a free kick, but St. Patricks fought hard and didn’t allow Crossmaglen to break away with a large early lead. It has been Crossmaglen’s typically rampant and ruthless opening that has rattled each of their Championship opponents this season, St Pat’s seemed to take that into account and put great effort into their defending early on.
Barry McConville and Gareth Mackin scored at each end of a Michael McNamee point to leave Cullyhanna just one point behind, 17 minutes into the match. The real damaging spell of the half occurred in the following five minutes – four unanswered points for Crossmaglen left them leading 0-08 to 0-03.
The reliable Tony Donnelly kept his side in the contest with two accurate free kicks in the closing stages of the half. Donnelly then almost set up a goal when Gary McCooey fisted his long diagonal pass towards the bottom left corner, but Paul Hearty reeled back the years by pulling off a spectacular reflex save. Cullyhanna went in trailing by just four points at the interval, and many were impressed by their determined approach.
It remained a close affair at the beginning of the second half, both sides exchanged points and neither side could really get a firm grip on the hard hitting contest. Another free kick from Tony Donnelly left his side trailing 0-11 to 0-08 on the 41st minute. Two minutes later Eugene Casey made it a two point match with a soaring long rang point.
Just as Cullyhanna’s hopes began to rise, Crossmaglen responded with two points of their own to take the rhythm out of their opponents stride. Donnelly managed to take the margin back to two again with his sixth point of the match on the 52nd minute but this proved to be Cullyhanna’s final score of their Championship campaign.
Crossmaglen completely took over in the final eight minutes and gave the spectators a short glimpse of their full potential with some classy football. Points from Padraig Stuttard, Aaron Kernan, Kyle Carragher and Marty Aherne who had a strong game helped Cross edge their way into their fifth consecutive County Senior Football Final, with a 0-18 to 0-12 victory over their fiercest rivals.
CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS: Paul Hearty; Stephen Finnegan, James Morgan, Paul Hughes; Aaron Kernan (0-04), Paul McKeown, Callum Cumiskey; Johnny Hanratty, Rico Kelly; Tony Kernan (0-02), Jamie Clarke (0-04), Martin Aherne (0-04); Kyle Carragher (0-02), Michael McNamee (0-01), John Murtagh.
Substitute scorers: Padraig Stuttard (0-01)
ST. PATRICK’S CULLYHANNA: Conor O’Neill; Michael Murray (0-01), Eoin McArdle, Stephen Reel; Paudie McCreesh (0-01), Malachy Mackin, Shea Connell; Pearse Casey, Barry McConville (0-01); Gareth Mackin (0-01), Gary McCooey, Kieran Hoey (0-01); Aidan Nugent, Eugene Casey (0-01), Tony Donnelly (0-06).
No substitute scorers