Impressive Crossmaglen Rangers dethrone reigning champions Armagh Harps in Orchard county quarter-final
Cormac Leonard Armagh Senior Football Championship quarter-final: Crossmaglen Rangers 2-22 Armagh Harps 1-15
“THEY haven't gone away you know,” observed one spectator with a chuckle after Crossmaglen dethroned reigning Orchard champions Armagh Harps at the Athletic Grounds.
The Rangers' lost their grip on the Gerry Fagan Cup over the past two seasons and still have two games to win before they get the trophy they held for 19 years out of 20 back, but on Saturday night's evidence they will take some stopping.
At times their kick-passing and movement was a joy to watch and the Harps, although they never threw the towel in, simply could not contain them.
There was no obsession with retaining possession with ponderous back-and-across handpassing movements in front of a packed defence with Cross and their first instinct was always to go forward at pace.
Ambition and positivity paid off as Kyle Carragher (1-2), Rian O'Neill (0-7) and Johnny McKeever (1-2) added the finishing touches to expert support play from Aaron Kernan, Paul Hughes, Oisin O'Neill and several others.
The Harps may have disappointed afterwards that they did not impose themselves physically enough on their south Armagh rivals but they were in front inside the first minute after Joe McElroy was taken down and Conor Murphy swung over a straightforward free.
Crossmaglen were soon on the attack and point followed point as they pushed up on Paddy Morrison's kick-outs with a man-to-man press that corralled the Harps in their own half. Kyle Carragher and Padraig Studdard combined to send Paul Hughes through for their opener and a turnover from the next kick-out led to an Aaron Kernan free from the left touchline that gave them a lead they would never to lose.
With Ultan Lennon well shackled by Rico Kelly, the Harps could find no way to relieve the pressure and Johnny Hanratty's raking 30-yard pass to Studdard led to Kernan's second free of the half.
An early yellow card for full-back Karol Loughran didn't help the Harps' cause and Carragher soloed through to add a fifth and Rian O'Neill (three frees) and Studdard had Cross 0-9 to 0-1 in front after 20 minutes and threatening to run away with the game.
But the Harps', showing spirit worthy of champions, dragged themselves back into it and Lorcan Oliver, Charlie Vernon, Ryan McShane (0-2) and Murphy all split the posts to reduce the deficit to four points (0-10 to 0-6).
Cross, who hit eight wides in the first half, were stung into action and they restored their lead to double scores (0-12 to 0-6) before Conn Stephenson's point meant the Harps were still in it, just about, at the break.
The Cathedral City side needed to come flying out of the traps in the second half but Cross were well aware of that and had no intention of allowing it.
In a flash they practically killed the game off. McKeever scored from the throw-in and calm defensive work from the ageless Kernan enabled Aaron Smylie to play in Rian O'Neill who clipped over another point.
Oisin O'Neill won the kick-out and passed to Carragher who skipped round Morrison and laced the ball into the back of the Harps' net.
Rian O'Neill almost finished the game off when he drilled a shot off the crossbar but the end came soon enough for the Harps. He was involved again, catching Hughes' 30-yard ball and laying it off to McKeever who blasted home the second goal.
The Harps were playing for pride and they salvaged it by out-scoring the winners from there to the finish. Murphy (0-2) and McIlroy points had narrowed the gap before Murphy (who finished with 1-4) took McShane's pass and beat Jamie McEvoy with a low finish that went in off a defender's boot.
But it was all academic by that stage and Cross cantered home to book their place in the semi-finals, sending out a message of intent to their rivals in the process.
Late in the piece and fair-haired youngster wearing 31 sprinted on for them. He's another emerging talent called Cian McConville, son of Jim, nephew of Oisin. Watch this space.
Armagh Harps: P Morrison; S Farry, K Loughran, C Stephenson (0-1); R McGrath, D McKenna, C Murphy (1-4, 0-3 frees); M McCoy, C White; R McShane (0-2), J McElroy (0-1), L Oliver; C Vernon (0-1), U Lennon (0-2, 0-1 free), M McConville
Subs: C McQuaid (0-1) for M McCoy (21), S McCoy (0-1) for McConville (36), T Turley for Loughran (48), T O'Kane (0-1)
Crossmaglen Rangers: J McEvoy; R Kelly, A Farrelly, A Smylie; A Kernan (0-2 frees), G Carragher, P Hughes (0-2); S Morris (0-1), O O'Neill (0-1); J McKeever (1-2), R O'Neill (0-7, 0-5 frees), P Studdard (0-1); M McNamee (0-2), J Hanratty, K Carragher (1-2)
Subs: C Cumiskey for Studdard (30), A Rushe for Hanratty (44), C McConville for McNamee (52), M Boyce for K Carragher (58), R McKeever for Kernan (60)
Referee: Jake Magill