GAA Football

Cross' boss Donal Murtagh cross about Ulster performance

Crossmaglen Rangers manager Donal Murtagh.
Pic Philip Walsh

ONE of the many reasons for Crossmaglen’s sustained success is their constant desire to improve.

Most clubs would have been more than happy with a hard-fought win over the Tyrone champions (Coalisland), but Cross’ boss Donal Murtagh’s demeanour afterwards was almost that of a defeated man.

Honesty is a factor too. Some managers might have talked up their team in public, but that’s not the Crossmaglen way.

Indeed Murtagh didn’t even wait until his players got into the changing room to deliver some words of wisdom to teenage forward Cian McConville, son of the famous Jim:

“He came on and he has huge potential – but, as I told him coming off the field, he had a goal chance and he missed it.

“Then they butchered another chance for a simple point that would have put four in it, and they [Coalisland] went down the field and got a free kick, scored a point, and that put it back to two in it.

“A wee bit of inexperience there – the simple thing to do would have been to tap it over the bar, put four in it, and finish the game.”

Winning is what matters, always, with Cross’ and they really should have done so very comfortably after Coalisland were reduced to 13 men inside the 25th minute of the match, with the sendings-off of half-forward Brian Toner and man-marker Eoghan Hampsey.

Yet the Rangers made little or nothing of their two-man advantage – five points to three up after Rian O’Neill converted a free following Hampsey’s dismissal, Cross’ actually fell behind 7-6 in the 39th minute, albeit after they had lost sub Callum Cumiskey to a second yellow card.

Murtagh was unimpressed by how his team performed with the extra men, saying: “We lost our shape, our decision-making was poor. Then in the second half we were playing against the wind and we seemed to find it hard to get the ball up the field.”

The match was very ‘stop-start’, as Murtagh acknowledged: “In the first half, you couldn’t blame them [Coalisland] for trying to slow it down, we had the wind at our backs, that was tactics on their behalf.

“There were a lot of frees – Martin McNally, the referee, wouldn’t be giving too many soft frees, but there were a lot of frees in the match – it was high tempo and that’s the way he refereed. The stop-start nature of it probably suited Coalisland more than us.”

Losing Johnny Hanratty, also for two yellow cards, actually helped Cross’, although Murtagh did criticise both his players for their actions.

Still, as someone who has ‘been there, done that’ as both a player and a manager with Cross’, Murtagh knows not to get too het up about performance, especially on a very sandy pitch:

“We’ve been involved in games like that many a time before – it’s winter football, decision-making and things that happen on the field wouldn’t happen on a normal day.

“The amount of mistakes that were made by the ball not bouncing or the ball slipping out of your hands was serious.

“Every year we ever did anything we had bad days, but we still managed to get over the line – that’s the positive out of it.”

The Armagh champs will now take on their Donegal counterparts, Gweedore, in the Ulster Club SFC semi-final. Both Hanratty and Cumiskey are available for selection at this stage, although there is a concern over the man that the latter replaced very early in the match, half-forward Padraig Stuttard. “He took a very heavy challenge in the first minute, right along the line, they nearly came in on top of me, that contributed to him coming off”.

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