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The Irish News - Dec 29 1997: Crossmaglen's All-Ireland win the highlight of Ulster GAA year

LEADING THE WAY: Jim McConville leads Crossmaglen on parade before the 1997 All-Ireland Club SFC final at Croke Park. Picture: Ann McManus

ULSTER’S GAA football highlight of 1997 arrived at Croke Park some six months earlier than most northerners would have hoped for.

Crossmaglen’s emotional triumph against Knockmore in the AIB All-Ireland Club Final on St Patrick’s Day had the wider GAA family feeling good about itself.

Cross’s year began on the training fields in preparation for the All-Ireland semi-final against holders Laune Rangers with Colm O’Rourke, at the instigation of manager Joe Kernan, also overseeing the Ulster team’s bid for glory.

Laune led 1-4 to 1-3 at the interval despite being outplayed for large tracts of the first half.

The holders then had Crossmaglen on the ropes for a period midway the second half but failed to take their scoring opportunities.

Cross finally took the chances that came their way and when Oisin McConville for once evaded the attentions of Mike Hassett and hit a wondrous 59th minute point, a somewhat unlikely victory had been fashioned.

The youngest of the three McConville brothers in the Cross line-up proved the hero of the ultimately facile final success over Knockmore.

Oisin’s 1-7 total in the 2-13 to 0- 11 win was aided by a sad error by the Mayo champions goalkeeper Pat Reape which gifted the Armagh county player a first-half goal.

From then on, it was all Cross and the McConville imprint on the occasion was further stamped by Jim hitting the team’s second goal.

But the occasion was more than just a McConville glory-day.

The whole of south Armagh celebrated with gusto and so-called journeymen footballers like Donal Murtagh, Martin Califf and Joe Fitzpatrick became names who will be remembered in Crossmaglen folklore.

 

NO CHANCE ... Crossmaglen captain Jim McConville leaves a Knockmore defender in his wake during the Armagh club's All-Ireland Club Football final win at Croke Park

 

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ST PATRICK’S Academy Dungannon’s Hogan Cup triumph rivalled Crossmaglen’s All-Ireland Club Football win as the best Ulster performance.

In the Bank of Ireland MacRory Cup campaign, the Tyrone school achieved the seemingly impossible by defeating St Patrick’s College Maghera in the semi-finals before over-coming a stubborn challenge from St Patrick’s Armagh in the decider. The win over the south Derry school in early March wrecked Maghera’s bid for four successive MacRory Cup titles.

The Dungannon school’s Ulster title earned them an All-Ireland semi-final tilt against Munster champions Colaiste Criost Ri.

The 15-point winning margin (5-10 to 0-10) was more than a tad misleading as only two points separated the sides with 15 minutes left.

Full-forward Richard Thornton opened up in the final quarter to complete an individual scoring tally of 3-2.

But despite the somewhat flattering nature of their winning margin, Dungannon had produced a display arguably even more impressive than their surprise win over Maghera in the MacRory semi-final.

The Ulster champions weren’t able to reproduce that kind of form in the Hogan Cup decider against St Gerard’s Castlebar.

Dungannon didn’t have to and in any case, the wet conditions, ruled out the find of scoring fest they had achieved in the semi-final.

Michael Rea’s 38th minute goal killed off the Castlebar challenge after the Ulster team only led 0-4 to 0-2 at the break.

The final score was 1- 10 to 0-3 with most of the plaudits going to the defence – in particular captain Paul McGurk and Ciaran Gourlay.

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