GAA Football

Referee rumpus as Coalisland crash out to Crossmaglen

Crossmaglen Rangers Rian O' Neill (left) collides with Coalisland's Bailey Leonard in the Ulster SFC quarter-final clash at Athletic Grounds, Armagh. Picture by Bill Smyth

Ulster Club SFC quarter-final: Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh) 0-12 Coalisland Fianna (Tyrone) 0-10

HANDBAGS and sandbags could have been the theme tune of this bizarre match even though it ended on the fairly predictable note of a Crossmaglen victory.

Frosts during the week rather than the weather conditions on the night explained the heavy, sandy pitch but some of the decisions by referee Martin McNally that led to this turning into a 13-a-side contest were harder to fathom.

This really wasn’t a dirty game, although there were too many niggly incidents, notably repeated fouling to stop the runs of Coalisland wing-forward Peter Herron.

However, a dozen yellow cards and four reds was still excessive, especially as ‘verbals’ apparently contributed to both of Coalisland’s dismissals.

The Fianna were the first to lose two players, both Brian Toner and Eoghan Hampsey departing around the 25-minute mark, the former called back to receive a second yellow following a first for dissent, the latter receiving a straight red apparently for something he said in reaction to his team-mate’s sending-off.

Those controversial calls prompted their manager Damian O’Hagan to describe the match official as “out of his depth”, saying that their reduction in numbers “had a massive influence on the game – I just don’t know where the referee was going with the whole thing.

“He obviously lost his way all night, he put two Crossmaglen men to the line as well. I’ve never been involved in a game in my life where four men got lined.”

Cross’ boss Donal Murtagh seemed more critical of the actions of his early substitute

Callum Cumiskey and the experienced Johnny Hanratty, which led to their second half sendings-off, both for second yellow cards, but holding your tongue is easier when you’ve won.

Losing bosses tend to point to the referee, winning managers can criticise their own team – and both were probably right to do so.

“There were silly fouls by our boys in the second half especially,” accepted Murtagh.

“They knew they were on yellow cards and they still did silly things. It was just a very bad day at the office for some players.

“I have no problem with Martin McNally doing that. I don’t know why he sent their players off, I didn’t see what happened…I don’t know.”

O’Hagan was at pains to praise Crossmaglen as the superior side on the night, and they certainly created several great goal chances, but Coalisland’s shooting for points also let them down badly, with 11 wides to their opponents’ four.

“Good luck to Cross’, they outsmarted us in the second half,” admitted O’Hagan.

“Cross’ beat us, they were the better team in the finish up, and I admire their football in the last 15 minutes, they’re a good footballing team.

“We’re going home thinking about the scores we missed. We had opportunities in the second half to put Cross’ away and we didn’t do it. They took their opportunities and good luck to them.”

The Blues did demonstrate great character to stay in the game despite their two-man deficit, and even took the lead when they were only one man down, going seven points to six up in the 39th minute, but the effort expended in doing so probably cost them in the end, as Murtagh acknowledged:

“They were very attacking from the full back line, taking a lot out of themselves, and they probably ran out of steam near the end, thankfully for us.”

The sandy surface was a factor too, both managers alluding to that, the result of several frosty mornings stopping grass growing up through the tonnes of sand that had been put on the pitch in preparation for next season.

O’Hagan complained: “The state of this pitch was very poor…absolutely covered in sand, it was ‘dead’ as anything and we haven’t had that much bad weather.”

Murtagh agreed with that assessment, declaring: “I don’t know how you can expect to play football on a pitch that’s covered in sand…It led to a lot of the handling errors from both teams.”

The anticipated nip and tuck affair unfolded even after the Rangers were handed that two-man advantage, with Murtagh saying his side “lost our shape” and failed to make anything of their extra players: “It was a peculiar match all right – our decision-making was very poor: long balls when they should have been short, silly things.”

Counter-intuitively, Cross’ turned the game around when it went ‘man to man’ again after Hanratty’s 44th minute sending-off, booked a second time for clattering Niall Kerr in frustration after failing to beat Peter Donnelly in the Coalisland goal.

The Armagh champs outscored their opponents by six points to three in the 13-a-side format. Indeed, with more space and tiring legs it became ‘the O’Neill brothers’ show’, Rian and Oisin scoring all those six points from play between them in the final quarter.

In trying to win, ‘the Island’ moved new Allstar Padraig Hampsey out the field, off Rian O’Neill – and that allowed him more freedom to do damage.

Even so, the teams were level on seven occasions until Cross’ finally pulled away from the 58th minute onwards, although after that Coalisland still had opportunities to equalise, as O’Hagan pointed out:

“This referee was totally out of his depth, tried to redeem himself – but Coalisland are out of the Ulster Championship, I don’t want to talk about referees.

“I’d rather talk about the good football that Crossmaglen and Coalisland played, because with five minutes to go it was anybody’s game.”

Arguably Cross’ should have been further in front by then, but lively young sub Cian McConville could only shoot against Donnelly’s legs after spinning clear.

The Rangers wasted an even better opening late on, when skipper Aaron Kernan drove out of defence to set up a four against one break – but Rian O’Neill twice could not find the net, albeit denied by a brave block from the heroic Stephen McNally and then a smart save from Donnelly.

“Some of our players towards the end showed a wee bit of their inexperience and didn’t take the proper decisions – but we’re in the next round,” said Murtagh.

He was gracious enough to note the chances their opponents had missed too, the most glaring coming late in the contest: “Thankfully Coalisland hadn’t their shooting boots with them because they kicked a lot of wides. On another day we might have been in serious trouble.”

Paddy McNeice actually finished as top scorer on the night when he slashed over his eighth successful free at the very end, but his reaction made it obvious he knew the ball needed to go under the bar, not over it.

That was over and out for the Fianna – but another provincial journey continues for Crossmaglen.


Crossmaglen: J McEvoy; R Kelly, A Farrelly, G Carragher; A Kernan (capt.), J Morgan, P Hughes; S Morris (0-1), J Hanratty; J McKeever (0-1), O O’Neill (0-2), P Stuttard; M McNamee (0-1), R O’Neill (0-7, 0-1 ‘45’, 0-2 frees), K Carragher.

Substitutes: C Cumiskey for Stuttard (inj, 6); C McConville for McNamee (h-t); T Kernan for McKeever (48).

Yellow cards: R O’Neill (12); A Kernan (20); Hanratty (27 and 44); Cumiskey (28 and 33); Kelly (35); Morgan (38); T Kernan (63).

Red cards: Cumiskey (33); Hanratty (44).


Coalisland: P Donnelly; D Fee, P Hampsey, E Hampsey; M McKernan, S McNally (capt.) (0-1), N Kerr; J Carberry, P Kane; P Herron, C O’Hagan, B Toner; B Leonard (0-1), P McNeice (0-8 frees), P McGahan.

Substitutes: T Quinn for McGahan (48); C Quinn for Leonard (53).

Yellow cards: Toner (7 and 24); McKernan (32).

Red cards: Toner (24, second yellow); E Hampsey (25).


Referee: Martin McNally (Monaghan).

Attendance: 7,637.


STAR MAN: Rian O’Neill (Crossmaglen)

Coalisland captain Stephen McNally could easily have claimed this accolade for his inspirational performance for his under-manned team, including kicking a point and making a great, late block to deny a goal.

However, it’s hard to look past the player who scored twice as much from play as the entire Fianna side, and also converted three placed balls for a tally of 0-7. Sure, he fluffed a simple free and wasted a good goal chance – but he scored when it mattered to win this match.

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