Stage is set for another Armagh thriller as Crossmaglen set up repeat of 2018 final with Ballymacnab after semi-final victory over Maghery
Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final: Crossmaglen Rangers 2-9 Maghery Sean McDermott’s 0-8
THE stage is set for another Orchard county thriller said Crossmaglen manager Kieran Donnelly after his side set up a repeat of last year’s decider against Ballymacnab thanks to a workmanlike win over Maghery on Saturday night.
An attritional, scrappy affair played in difficult conditions was punctuated by Cross goals at the start and at the death and the defending champions’ opener, after just 63 seconds, had a huge bearing on a contest played after a downpour throughout the first semi-final had turned the Athletic Grounds into a muddy quagmire in places.
A pitch inspection was required before throw-in and when the game finally began canny Cross weighed up the conditions and Mel Boyce did the sensible thing by launching a high ball towards full-forward Oisin O’Neill. The Maghery defence failed to deal with it and when the ball fell at his feet O’Neill stroked it past Johnny Montgomery.
Cian McConville clipped over a point to continue Crossmaglen’s bright start and throw Maghery’s gameplan into disarray but the Division One champions had enough chances to get back into it. They just couldn’t take them.
With James Lavery putting in a terrific shift around midfield and Aidan Forker tracking Rian O’Neill, the loughshore men gave as good as they got in the centrefield battle and fashioned nine scoring opportunities. They had to work hard for their frees but they took just one – a Stefan Forker effort - after willing front-runner Brian Fox had been taken down by a combination of Rico Kelly and Rian O’Neill.
Their other chances either drifted wide or dropped into the grateful arms of Tiernan McConville.
Meanwhile, Cross did only slightly better but that was enough and two Rian O’Neill frees and another point from McConville, one of several emerging talents in black and amber, sent the Rangers in at the break leading 1-4 to a single point.
Maghery had missed four more chances and Cross had moved into a nine-point lead thanks to points from Rian O’Neill, McConville and Callum Comiskey before Aidan Forker, now operating at full-forward, registered his side’s second score on 44 minutes.
Montgomery denied Alan Farrelly with a point-blank save (the shot was deflected over the bar) to keep his side hanging on by their fingertips and three points from the Forker brothers (two Aidan frees and Maghery’s first from play from Stefan after 51 minutes) left six in it with nine minutes to play.
But Finnian Moriarty’s men could not kick on and Cross administered the coup de grace when Kyle Carragher and McConville combined on the right, switching the ball to Rian O’Neill at the far post and he passed to his brother in front of goal.
Oisin picked his spot and now Crossmaglen are preparing for yet another county final.
“Every final is important to us and we’re delighted to be back,” said their manager Kieran Donnelly.
When asked if we’d seen the best of his side, he replied: “There’s more there, definitely.
“You have to give great credit to the players tonight and that’s what it’s all about. They were difficult conditions and they put in a serious effort.”
He added: “Ballymacnab will be looking forward to the final and why wouldn’t they? It will be a brilliant occasion again and they’ll be up for it. They have a great chance of winning it.”
As Crossmaglen enjoyed their victory the Maghery dressingroom, on the other side of the corridor, was contrastingly quiet for obvious reasons. The north Armagh side never really got going and manager Finnian Moriarty conceded that the better team had won.
“Even though we only got the one score in the first half, we were on top of the breaks around the middle but Cross were kicking scores and we weren’t and that was the difference,” he said.
“Fair play to them, the better team won on the night and we just have to go and lick our wounds.”
Crossmaglen: T McConville; P Hughes, R Kelly, C Crowley; A Kernan, C Cumiskey (0-1), G Carragher; S Morris, A Farrelly (0-1); J McKeever, O O’Neill (2-0); M Boyce; R O’Neill (0-3 frees), C McConville (0-3, 0-1 free), C O’Connor (0-1)
Subs: K Carragher for Boyce (HT), T Kernan for O’Connor (55), J Hanratty for Morris (58), P Finnegan for McKeever (63)
Yellow cards: O O’Neill (10), C O’Connor (31)
Maghery: J Montgomery; E Scullion, C Higgins, B Haveron; O Cushnahan, O Lappin, S Cusack; J Lavery (0-1), B Crealey; B Fox, P Forker, S Forker (0-2, 0-1 free); C Forker, A Forker (0-3 frees), E Cusack
Subs: C Lappin for P Forker (41), G Campbell (0-1) for K Nugent (46), N Forker (0-1) for B Fox (50), Seamus Forker for Lappin (60)
Yellow cards: Crealey (7), S Cusack (31), Lappin (49)
Referee: Kevin Falloon