Crossmaglen return to Armagh Championship final after commanding semi-final win over Cullyhanna
Cormac Leonard Armagh Senior Football Championship semi-final: St Patrick’s Cullyhanna 1-11 Crossmaglen Rangers 0-19
CROSSMAGLEN returned to the Armagh Championship final after a two-year absence with a commanding win over Cullyhanna yesterday evening.
Their south-Armagh neighbours had brought Crossmaglen’s six-year winning run to an end with an unexpected semi-final win in 2016 but they never threatened to repeat that feat yesterday and Crossmaglen – who finished the game with 14 men after David McKenna had been red-carded - were full value for their victory.
The Rangers looked fitter, stronger and slicker all over the field while Cullyhanna, who went into the game fancying their chances, couldn’t produce on the night and, consequently, the game never quite caught fire.
A chilly wind whistled down the field from the Dalton End toward the spires of the city’s two cathedrals and Cross used it well throughout the first half.
Scores came regularly for the men in black and amber and Johnny Hanratty – built for a night like this – hoofed in a free toward full-forward Rian O’Neill who shrugged off Ciaran McKeever and swept the ball over the bar to open the scoring.
Referee Kevin Faloon preferred to let the action continue as the hits flew in during a breathless opening period and Aidan Nugent and Kieran Hoey pointed for Cullyhanna in between Kyle Carragher’s point for Cross.
Another from Kieran Hoey left the St Patrick’s outfit 0-3 to 0-2 ahead but Cross – with the canny James Morgan on now in place of injured Aaron Smylie - replied through Johnny McKeever and then Oisin and Rian O’Neill before Aidan Nugent picked his spot with a low shot from 14 yards which ricocheted into the Crossmaglen net off the far post.
That left it all square but Cullyhanna managed just one more score – a Jason Duffy point - from there to the break by which time Cross had established a commanding position.
Old warhorses Hanratty and Mal Mackin locked horns in the middle of the field but the biggest roar from the crowd came after Rian O’Neill – a mobile and strong forward who should have a bright future at inter-county level - broke to win the ball on the right wing and sent a swerving shot between the posts from an acute angle.
That score had Cross 0-8 to 1-3 ahead and Stephen Morris, Aaron Kernan, Hanratty, Mickey McNamee (two) all raised white flags as Cross went in at the break with the spadework done leading 0-13 to 1-3.
Against the wind, Cullyhanna’s attacks had been too pedestrian and they dispatched Sean Connell to mark Rian O’Neill for the second half with the experienced McKeever pushing into midfield.
Jason Duffy and Pearse Casey landed early points before McKeever, who was struggling to assert himself, was black-carded for a trip.
Cullyhanna continued to battle though and with off-the-ball rows popping up all over the field, substitute Barry McConville clipped over a point that closed the gap to five.
Aidan Nugent pulled another back after Mal Mackin, now at full-forward, won a free but unflustered Cross kicked on again.
Rian O’Neill’s superb 45 was still gaining altitude as it went over the bar against the wind and Paul Hughes’ finish after a pacey break cancelled out efforts from Mackin and Ross McQuillan, who didn’t have the influence on the game Cullyhanna fans had hoped for.
McKenna, more sinned against than sinning, was sent off but Cross responded with another cracking point from Hughes that showcased the fitness levels and the hunger in the side.
At the other end, Eugene Casey pulled a point back but the goals that Cullyhanna needed never looked like coming. First Kernan slammed the door shut as Kieran McCooey threatened to break into space, and then Shane Duffy’s shot was blocked on the line by Rian O’Neill.
But it wasn’t as if Cross were hanging on. Cian McConville had a late goal chance before the whistle blew to confirm their return to the decider where they will face league champions Ballymacnab.
St Patrick’s, Cullyhanna: D McArdle; S Óg Irwin, C McKeever, F O’Rourke; M Murray, K McCooey, R McQuillan (0-2); S Conlon (0-1), P Casey; C Nugent, M Mackin (0-1), K Hoey (0-1); S Hoey, J Duffy (0-2), A Nugent (1-2); Subs: S Connell for C Nugent (30), G McCooey for F O’Rourke (HT), E Casey (HT), K Reid for S Hoey (45), P McArdle for S Óg Irwin (55); Yellow cards: S Conlon (40), E Casey (58); Black card: C McKeever replaced by B McConville (0-1) (42)
Crossmaglen Rangers: J McEvoy; R Kelly, A Farrelly, A Smylie; A .Kernan (0-1), G Carragher, P Hughes (0-2); S Morris (0-1), O O’Neill (0-1); J McKeever (0-1), R O’Neill (0-7, 0-4 frees, 0-1 45), P Studdard; M McNamee (0-3), J Hanratty (0-1), K Carragher (0-2); Subs: J Morgan for A Smylie (4), C Comiskey for Studdard (ht), C McConville for McNamee (41), A Rushe for Hanratty (70); Yellow cards: Hanratty (30), P Hughes (40), R O’Neill (43), D McKenna (46); Black cards: J McKeever replaced by D McKenna (45), D McKenna (53); Red card: D McKenna (53)
Referee: K Faloon