Crossmaglen grind down St Brigid's
Crossmaglen 2-11 St Brigid’s 1-11:FOR A famous club like Crossmaglen Rangers the only thing bigger than winning an All-Ireland title is winning it back. So, 14 years after their first title, and four years after their last, the boys from Armagh claimed title number five – only this might well be their sweetest.
The poise and self-belief that comes with that sort of record was perhaps the ultimate difference why they made the trip back to Armagh as champions, while St Brigid’s journeyed back to Roscommon wondering what might have been. There really wasn’t much between the teams in the football sense, but Crossmaglen seemed to have the mental edge to drive them over the line, while St Brigid’s died just a little short of it.
What was also driving Crossmaglen was defeat in the final two years ago, to Dublin’s Kilmacud Crokes – their first real taste of defeat on the club stage. So they went away and reinvented themselves under new managers Gareth O’Neill and Tony McEntee, and re-emerged a stronger, fitter, more productive team.
“I remember walking out of the Croke Park two years ago, after losing to Kilmacud, and thinking I’d never be back with the club,” said Aaron Kernan – one of four Kernan brothers on the team, and who collected his second All-Ireland. “It takes so much to get here, and I thought the boys had given so much, I didn’t know if we could be ignited again. Tony and Gareth came in and refocused us, knowing exactly what they wanted.”
Indeed after a tense and largely entertaining final there was no disputing Crossmaglen’s victory: tactically they were more astute and physically they were able to grind down their opposition.
“That’s what we do, grind out a result,” said Oisín McConville, now part of all five All-Ireland-winning teams. “Even though we’d a few hairy moments towards the end, and gave ourselves a good rollicking at half-time, we got there in the end.”
McConville has experienced many memorable days in Croke Park, and this one – played out in front of a combined attendance of 25,442 – may well be the most unforgettable of the lot. “Well it’s my latest win,” he suggested, “so that makes it the sweetest.”
His 0-6 contribution, two from play, was certainly important and overall Crossmaglen presented the greater or at least more inventive scoring threat.
For St Brigid’s – appearing in a first All-Ireland final – a two-man full-forward ploy of Senan Kilbride and Cathal McHugh created plenty of danger, but in the end just not enough of it. Frankie Dolan made his presence felt further out the field but missed two frees late on that proved costly.
Kilbride hit 0-8, three from play, and was an obvious threat every time he caught the ball, but with Paul Kernan improving defensively as the game progressed, eventually even Kilbride’s enormous presence was limited.
For decisive scores, however, Jamie Clarke can take a bow. The teams went point-for-point in the opening 20 minutes, with Clarke hitting two from play, before Crossmaglen claimed the first goal: Stephen Kernan’s searching pass was initially gathered by Johnny Hanratty, and while the St Brigid’s defence appeared to be ball watching, he slipped it out to Aaron Cunningham, who then stuck it deftly into the net.
Crucially, at least at that stage, St Brigid’s hit back straightaway. Dolan’s sweet pass was briefly touched down by Conor McHugh, allowing Eoin Sheehy to shoot. Although Paul Hearty saved it, Sheehy cleanly caught the rebound and made no mistake at the second time of asking. After that Kilbride tagged on two more scores so that the Connacht champions actually led at half-time: 1-6 to 1-5.
Just four minutes after the restart, however, Clarke popped up again for the decisive score: David McKenna’s looping ball across the St Brigid’s goalmouth fell somewhat luckily to Clarke, but his finish was pure class – leaving Philip Martin with no chance of a save this time. McConville added a free soon afterwards and suddenly Crossmaglen were four points clear, with St Brigid’s seemingly running out of ideas.
In fairness they dug deep again. Kilbride and then Karol Mannion hit big scores to reduce the gap to two points, and it became a game of nerves again. Crossmaglen held theirs better – helped perhaps by some favourable refereeing decisions – and when McConville curled over another free it seemed certain to be their day.
Still, St Brigid’s hunted for one last kill, with Dolan’s two missed frees something of a back-fire – as it gave Crossmaglen added confidence to hold out. Kilbride also had one late free to perhaps seek a goal chance, but instead he wasted it completely by shooting long and wide. Still the Roscommon club can take some consolation in that they asked hard questions of Crossmaglen – and maybe someday can come back themselves even stronger.
CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS: P Hearty: P McKeown, P Kernan, J Morgan; A Kernan (0-1, free), D O’Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, D McKenna; J Clarke (1-3), S Kernan, F Hanratty; T Kernan, A Cunningham (1-0), O McConville (0-6, 0-4 frees). Subs: J McEntee for F Hanratty (28 mins), M McNamee for Cunningham (40 mins), K Carragher (0-1) for Finnegan (53 mins), F Bellow for S Kernan (60 mins).
ST BRIGID’S: P Martin; R Kelly, D Donnelly, D Sheehy; I Kilbride, P Domican, G Cunniffee; G Dolan, K Mannion (0-1); E Sheehy (1-0), Cathal McHugh (0-1), D Dolan; Conor McHugh, S Kilbride (0-8, 0-5 frees), F Dolan (0-1). Subs: J Tiernan for Cathal McHugh (20 mins), D Kelleher for Conor McHugh (51 mins), D O’Connor for Tiernan (58 mins).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).