THE ball was in the Maghery net in the first minute and the final minute of a vintage Crossmaglen performance in Friday night’s Armagh senior championship semi-final.
With a proactive, man-on-man display that flicked a defiant two-fingered salute towards the negative tactics so widespread in Gaelic Football, Cross showcased the finer arts of the game and sent their supporters, the neutrals and perhaps even a few Maghery fans home with smiles on their faces.
It was a joy to watch and Crossmaglen manager Stephen Kernan was delighted with his team’s whistle-to-whistle performance.
“People think: ‘Ah, you can’t play like that, you can’t win like that anymore against the new-age of GAA’,” said Kernan.
“I’m not a great believer in playing defensive football and we’re not in Crossmaglen in general. Over the last couple of games (against Silverbridge and Dromintee) we didn’t have good starts but we had great finishes and played some outstanding football and kicked some great scores while having six forwards inter-changing and playing football the way we like to play it.
“So that’s the challenge for us in a fortnight now: To come back to Armagh and see can we actually win the county title and play good football that gets people up in the morning and energised to go to work and come to training at night knowing they get rewards for playing the way we want to play.”
If they repeat what they showed on Friday night they will be hard to stop in the decider. Maghery had been a bogey team for Crossmaglen in previous meetings but the Loughshore outfit were never in the game.
They were thrown onto the back foot by an unfortunate own goal in the first minute and Crossmaglen did not give them a moment to recover. Point after superb point followed and the game was beyond the 2020 champions before they eventually opened their account after 18 one-sided minutes.
“It was a big moment in the career of this current team,” said Kernan after the 3-15 to 1-6 win.
“At some stage they had to stand up. We didn’t over-build it, but to beat Maghery they needed to produce a performance that was better than what we’ve produced over the last seven or eight years.
“Every team has a moment when everything just clicks and it did for us. We did get a great start when they fumbled the ball and it went into the net but over this past couple of years we were due that slight bit of luck.
“It came about because of our press, because of how we started, we started with a bit of intent and I thought we were very good, I thought the football we played was excellent, I thought we defended really well from the front for the whole game and the execution of all the basic skills of Gaelic Football was exceptional. To a man, everyone who started and everyone who came on put in a shift.”
Rian O’Neill, Jamie Clarke and Cian McConville were among the best performers for Cross and Ronan Fitzpatrick had a terrific game with 1-2 from midfield. The challenge for them now is to produce another of the same standard to recapture the Gerry Fegan Cup which eluded them in the last two deciders.