Young Rangers have to learn quickly says Crossmaglen manager Stephen Kernan
CROSSMAGLEN Rangers had seven players under the age of 21 on the Athletic Grounds for the closing stages of their Armagh SFC win over Madden on Saturday evening.
The young black and amber outfit recovered from the setback of an early Ciaran Rafferty goal to win by eight points against the Raparees and now look forward to meeting with south Armagh neighbours Killeavy at the quarter-final stage.
That game is a repeat of last year's semi-final in which the then defending champions were pushed all the way by the St Moninna club and manager Stephen Kernan says his young side will need to learn quickly to make progress at senior level.
“You have to remember how young this team is,” said Kernan after the 2-15 to 1-10 win.
“Take Aaron and Tony (Kernan) and James (Morgan) out of it and they are kids.
“The journey of this team is only starting, where it goes I don't know but they are only starting out.
“We finished the game with seven players under 21 on the field and that hasn't happened in Crossmaglen in 25 years. They are doing well but they are going to have to learn very quickly.”
Kernan had expected a battle against Madden and that's exactly what he got. The Raparees settled quickly and raced into an early lead through Rafferty's goal and had two more goal chances in the opening stages before Rian O'Neill's two majors (the first a penalty) enabled Cross to get over the line with a bit to spare.
“Championship football is a battle and you expect a battle and we'd be very happy with a lot of the things that we did there but the execution of our skills let us down in the first half,” said Kernan.
“A lot of their attacks came from, not unforced errors – they forced us into errors, but the execution of our skills was poor in the first half and we were better in the second half.
“One or two boys needed to up the aggression in their game and probably about 12 of them needed to improve their skills. We were creating chances – particularly in the second quarter when James Morgan, Paul Hughes and Paudie Stuttard started to go at them and then gaps appeared but we just didn't get enough scores.”
He added: “I wasn't happy with the goal, if Madden had have had a killer instinct they would have got three goals in that first period. Having said that, we would have scored three in the second period if we had gone at them.”
A few choice words at the interval refocused his team and from there on Crossmaglen took control of the game. Rian O'Neill was outstanding and his Armagh team-mate Morgan, a survivor of Crossmaglen's last All-Ireland success in 2012, produced a vintage performance of counter-attacking football.
“It was just about highlighting it and making them aware fixes and not to make the same mistakes again in the second quarter and we didn't,” said Kernan.
“From the second quarter on we got a foothold and we got our scores, mainly through Rian who was outstanding.
“Cian McConville was brilliant again at full-forward and the rest of the boys knuckled down. James Morgan was brilliant too, his performance was genuinely outstanding and I thought he was the second best player on the field (behind Rian).
Last season Killeavy pushed Cross all the way in the semi-final but Kernan's men emerged with a two-point win. Killeavy were 1-14 to 0-8 winners against Annaghmore in their championship opener.
“It's good to be looking forward to that now,” said Kernan.
“Right now we've just come out on the right side of another battle and we'll savour it first.”