Crossmaglen cruise to comfortable victory over Silverbridge Harps
Cormac Leonard Commercials Armagh SFC first round: Crossmaglen 3-10 Silverbridge 1-8
DIGITAL programmes, changing in cars and stands, water breaks, and squad numbers may be new aspects of Gaelic games in 2020 but plenty of familiar factors remain in place – not least Crossmaglen winning comfortably.
The Rangers calmly overturned an early three-point deficit with three goals by the sixth minute of the second half, through Oisin O'Neill and the Kernan brothers, Tony and Aaron, to ease into the quarter-finals.
The 10-point lead accrued by that stage allowed the Cross' boss – the Kernans' eldest brother Stephen – to implement an innovative policy of immediately hooking off goal-scorers, although the younger O'Neill remained on the pitch to good effect around the middle third.
Those older legs were being kept fresh for next weekend's quarter-final clash with another set of neighbours, Mullaghbawn.
"I'd say they were happy enough, to tell you the truth," said Stephen with a smile, "but there will be days coming up where they'll not be too keen if I'm calling them ashore."
It probably will be days too, and/or nights, with Crossmaglen – as so often – favourites to progress to the semi-finals, although Kernan sounded a note of caution: "With a knockout championship you can't plan – just look at Madden beating Ballymacnab- but we'll obviously start planning now for Mullaghbawn...and look forward to it."
Unlike other counties where there are round robins or league championship formats, that has to be the approach in Armagh, with Cross' well warned against any complacency by Madden's victory over the 'Nab – who had put seven goals past an admittedly much under-strength Rangers team at St Oliver Plunkett Park in the League.
Even so, Silverbridge started superbly, reeling off three points after just over four minutes of play, through Paddy and Eoin Reel either side of a well-taken score by wing-back Gavin Burns.
With that league thrashing in mind, one wondered if Cross' would be rocking, reeling, and suffering from Burns – but they kept county star Jarly Og very quiet.
Indeed, when invited to agree about the threat that Rian O'Neill is at full-forward, his manager did – but also pointed to his brother and another at centre-field, plus other less well-known names: "He is, but the platform Stephen Morris and Oisin O'Neill gave us at midfield was exceptional.
"Callum Cumiskey was really good in centre back and I thought our forward unit as a whole was really good. Darragh O'Callaghan is only a teenager but he was outstanding, and Mel [Boyce] was very good."
Darragh and Tony O'Callaghan were Championship debutants for Crossmaglen, both catching the eye, the latter impressing with his accurate kick-passing to inside-forwards, the former notching a sweet score from the right wing.
It was another youngster, Cian McConville who opened their account, from a free, before the O'Neill brothers took over, adding a point a piece, then combining for a 19th minute goal.
The Harps were still complaining about a perceived foul by Cross' captain and full-back James Morgan on their full-forward Aaron Duffy when the men in black and amber swept to the other end and netted.
Rian received yet another long ball in, off-loaded it to Oisin, and he swiftly exchanged hand-passes with Boyce before palming to an open net.
Cue the first drinks break, after which the game was tight again, with Cross' edging only slightly further ahead for a 1-6 to 0-6 interval advantage.
However, they burst out of the blocks after the teams turned around, Tony Kernan following up on a saved shot from Boyce to blast to the net before Aaron was released in the left channel and guided a precise low shot inside the far post.
Both Kernans were taken off around a minute after their goals, a clear signal that this match was effectively over.
Boss Stephen said he hadn't sent his team to get goals per se: "We just wanted to get scores – the fact that we got goals was pleasing. We got through for goals in the first half but Tony and Cian [McConville] didn't take them, Rian could have taken a mark, was probably fouled, but ended up getting nothing…
"We started quite well, we just didn't hold the ball in our forward line the way we wanted to – but whenever we did we just went up through the gears and were able to create scores. We left a lot of scores behind us in both halves, but I suppose that's something we can work on. I'd be a lot more worried if we weren't creating the chances for scores. Some of the opportunities we created were brilliant but we missed quite a lot."
Silverbridge kept at it, but having only scored twice from play, simply didn't have the firepower to concern Cross'.
They did get a goal when substitute Padraig Keatings was fouled following Cross' goalkeeper Tiarnan McConville fumbling a high ball, Eoin Reel firing the penalty confidently in.
At the other end Gerard McGarvey reacted well to deny Rangers sub Kyle Carragher a close range goal but Silverbridge never threatened more goals themselves, despite sending midfielder and skipper Peter Carragher up to the 'square'.
As in the first half, the water breaks didn't seem to be counted into time added on, with only two and three minutes more allowed respectively, despite treatment for an injury or two as well.
However, that wasn't an issue as the thoroughbreds of Crossmaglen cantered on to the last eight in Armagh. "I'm all right with it today," said Kernan with a smile, "but on another day I mightn't be all right with it."
For now, despite how unusual 2020 has been so far, Crossmaglen sights remain on the next ball, the next match – and, they hope, the next county title.
* Professionalism may be a dirty word to most in the GAA but it applies in a positive sense to the organisation by the Armagh county board. Not only in terms of hygiene and the regular reminders about social distancing, and the deep clean ahead of another game yesterday evening, but with the effort put into their comprehensive digital programme and their welcoming approach to the media, the Orchard County merits plenty of praise.
Crossmaglen Rangers: T McConville; C Crowley (0-1), J Morgan (capt.), P Hughes; A Kernan (1-0), C Cumiskey, T O'Callaghan; S Morris, C O'Connor; M Boyce, O O'Neill (1-2), T Kernan (1-0); C McConville (0-2 frees), R O'Neill (0-3, 0-1 mark), D O'Callaghan (0-1).
Substitutes: P Finnegan for O'Connor (h-t); K Carragher (0-1) for T Kernan (37); G Carragher for A Kernan (37); P Stuttard for Boyce (56); O Kearns for D O'Callaghan (59).
Black card: Finnegan (40).
Silverbridge Harps: G McGarvey; J Meegan, B Murphy, J McArdle; F Burns, P Reel (0-2 frees), G Burns (0-1); J Og Burns, P Carragher; E Reel (1-1, 1-0 penalty), J Martin (0-1), J Murphy; S Rock (0-1 free), A Duffy, R Reel (0-2 frees).
Substitutes: P Keatings for S Rock (37); S Kelly for Martin (44); S Garvey for Meegan (52).
Referee: Oliver Hearty (Belleeks)