GAA Football

Maghery edge out Crossmaglen Rangers to set up Armagh Harps final

Crossmaglen's Rian O'Neill in action against Maghery's Stefan Forker, Oisin Lappin and Brian Fox at the Athletic Grounds in Armagh Picture by Bill Smyth
From Brendan Crossan at The Athletic Grounds

Donnelly Group Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final:

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-16 Seán MacDiarmada, Maghery 2-13

IT’S a genuine pity Saturday’s night’s eagerly anticipated Armagh SFC semi-final encounter between heavyweights Crossmaglen Rangers and Maghery was marred by an untidy brawl involving both teams and backroom staff as well as some supporters that entered the field of play.

The unsightly episode occurred after the final whistle on the opposite side of the field from the main stand and lasted a couple of minutes.

Even with the help of binoculars from the press overspill area it was impossible to determine the sequence of events – but the vast majority of incumbents seemed to be trying to restore peace around an incident inside the wire.

Through the stadium tannoy supporters were ordered to leave the pitch.

Armagh officials are almost certain to investigate the post-match scrum that sullied what was a fantastic advert for their senior championship that was hard-hitting and free-flowing from start to finish.

Maghery’s gutsy three-point win over the county’s durable kingpins felt like the end of an era, the end of an empire and the celebrated end of serfdom.

After losing to St Patrick’s Cullyhanna in last year’s semi-final Crossmaglen Rangers were expected to bounce back in 2017 to win their 44th county crown.

But defending champions Maghery had other ideas.

Buoyed by their early round championship success over ’Cross, Shane McConville’s men hit their illustrious opponents with two quick-fire goals in a blistering first-half performance on Saturday night that propelled them towards a decider with Armagh Harps on Sunday October 15.

Maghery endured an early second-half onslaught from Gareth O’Neill’s side but they steadied themselves in the closing stages to keep hold of their hard-earned crown.

Aidan Forker, who continues to thrive in a full-forward role with his club, admitted that Saturday night’s victory was “up there with the best wins of his career”.

Scorer of four crucial points in Saturday night’s enthralling semi-final, the county ace added: “We played with great spirit. Crossmaglen have dominated Armagh football for the last number of years. We beat them twice this year and hopefully there’s a good future for us but they’ll come back strong.”

In the end, Maghery’s dominance at midfield was the decisive factor.

Crossmaglen found it difficult to navigate a way past Maghery midfielders Ben Crealey and James Lavery while the two men were ably assisted by the deep-lying Stefan Forker as well as man-of-the-match Stephen Cusack and Ciaran Higgins who profited heavily from the breaks around the middle.

“If you want to be beat Crossmaglen that’s the way you have to go and play,” said Maghery boss Shane McConville.

“Every player was eight or nine-out-of-10 and that’s what got us over the line.”

The two game-winning majors arrived in the ninth and 11th minutes for Maghery.

The towering Ronan Lappin appeared to get the final touch to Cusack’s lofted pass that Crossmaglen ‘keeper Paul Hearty couldn’t get to.

Two minutes later, Maghery won yet another Crossmaglen kick-out. The ball was ushered to Conor Mackle and the advancing Cusack confidently picked his spot from close range to put the holders 2-2 to 0-3 ahead.

Crossmaglen mightn’t have the totemic leaders of their halcyon days but they will always be a resilient crew.

Throughout Saturday night’s clash Aaron Kernan probed with some astute passes into the ’Cross forward line, Paul Hughes was perpetual motion and the manager's sons Oisin O’Neill and Rian O’Neill lit up this semi-final with some fantastic moments and scores.

Even though the south Armagh men trailed 2-7 to 0-9 at the interval, they were far from out of the contest.

Two points from Oisin O’Neill and a well-worked score from Padraig Stuttard after the restart gave ’Cross hope.

They were further encouraged when Aidan Forker missed a handy free in the 41st minute and Maghery goalkeeper Johnny Montgomery made a mess of a long-distance free by going short and losing possession.

“I think this Maghery team tends to do that at times,” said Forker, referring to his side’s early second-half lapses.

“We don’t make it easy for ourselves. In the first five minutes we missed 1-3. We did that last year in the final. I watched the final recently and we were really, really poor but it gives us something to work on for the final.”

Forker, though, made amends by converting a crucial 43rd minute free to open Maghery’s second half account – and even though Paul Hughes fired over after riding a couple of tackles to make it a one-point game [0-14 to 2-9] after 47 minutes, the educated balls into Maghery’s inside line were destined to cause the ‘Cross defence more trouble before the end.

In those nail-biting final 10 minutes, Maghery out-scored their opponents 0-4 to 0-2.

Crossmaglen manager Gareth O’Neill must have been thinking the outcome might well have been different had Tony Kernan been fit to start and the absent Jamie Clarke committed to the cause.

O’Neill decided to skip the post-match media briefing as he was left to rue a faltering kick-out strategy and the concession of two avoidable first half goals.

Maghery were worthy winners and they’ll hope to retain their crown in 13 days’ time against final opponents Armagh Harps and prove that they are not a one-season wonder.

“Until we beat Armagh Harps in the final, which will be no mean challenge, people might still say we’re a flash in the pan. But they can say what they like," said McConville.

“These players are all experienced players, level heads. They’ll have a pint tonight and they’ll be training on Monday. We’ve won nothing yet.”

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; A Rushe, R Kelly, J Morgan; A Kernan (0-3 frees), C Dillon, S Finnegan; S Morris, R O’Neill (0-4, 0-2 frees); P McKeown, O O’Neill (0-4, 0-1 free), P Hughes (0-1) S Kernan (0-2); P Stuttard (0-2), K Carragher Subs: M Aherne for C Dillon (22), J Hanratty for S Finnegan (34), T Kernan for P Stuttard (55)

Yellow cards: R O’Neill (27), M Aherne (28), J Hanratty (41)

Maghery: J Montgomery; K Nugent, O Lappin, C Higgins (0-1); B Haveron, S Cusack (1-2, 0-1 free), D Lavery; J Lavery, B Crealey (0-1); S Tennyson, C Mackle, R Lappin (1-0); B Fox , Stefan Forker (0-4, 0-3 free), A Forker (0-4, 0-2 frees) Subs: Seamus Forker for C Mackle (48), P Forker (0-1) for B Fox (58), N Forker for K Nugent (60)

Yellow cards: Stefan Forker (47), K Nugent (56), A Forker (61)

Referee: K Falloon

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