Pride, relief, happiness... Crossmaglen reclaim Armagh title with victory over Granemore

Power Rangers. Crossmaglen celebrate their club's 46th Armagh title at the Athletic Grounds yesterday. Picture: Seamus Loughran
Power Rangers. Crossmaglen celebrate their club's 46th Armagh title at the Athletic Grounds yesterday. Picture: Seamus Loughran Power Rangers. Crossmaglen celebrate their club's 46th Armagh title at the Athletic Grounds yesterday. Picture: Seamus Loughran

PRIDE, relief, happiness. They were the over-riding emotions for Stephen Kernan after his Crossmaglen side got their hands back on the Gerry Fegan Cup.

Kernan’s Rangers had lost the previous two Armagh finals but, despite a gutsy effort from underdogs Granemore, there was never any real danger of an unwanted hat-trick at the Athletic Grounds yesterday. A goal from Caolan Finnegan (just back on the field after getting stitches in a head wound) turned the match Crossmaglen’s way and, in the end, the south Armagh men powered home to win their 46th county title.

“Winning is great,” said Kernan.

“We were very used to it for a long period of time and we’ve been humbled over the past couple of years and now, in winning, we will remain humble and be appreciative of being in this position.”

Next up for Cross are Ballybay Pearse Brothers in the Ulster Club Championship. The scouts from the Monaghan champions will have left the Athletic Grounds yesterday impressed by the ferocious intensity of Crossmaglen’s tackling right across the field, their physicality and the off-the-cuff brilliance of the attacking play that is their sole focus.

“We didn’t really get to the standard we did a fortnight ago but we did in patches and we played some great football at times in big moments and kicked some great scores,” said Kernan.

“There was great intent in how we played and when Caolan (Finnegan) got the opportunity – and most people wouldn’t even have seen it as an opportunity – he was deadly and that gave us great momentum.”

Granemore trailed by seven points at half-time but fought back gamely in the second half to reduce the deficit to five. However a stream of scores from outstanding Cian McConville and Rian O’Neill meant Cross got back on top without major drama.

“You’re always worried when teams get a bit of momentum against you but a lot of Granemore’s momentum was coming from us executing our skills poorly and our players being isolated,” said Kernan.

“It wasn’t that we were under that much pressure and being dominated all over the field. So we weren’t worrying, we just needed to settle down, get the ball up the field as quickly as we could and put pressure on them and get them taking their own kick-outs so we could get set-up.”

Cross have moved fluently through the gears in this campaign. Without quite hitting the heights of their semi-final win against Maghery, they cantered home yesterday and have won their last three games by 12, 15 and 10 points respectively.

“We have been building for a couple of years,” said Kernan.

“This team is very different from the last Cross team that won the championship – there are a lot of young players and we’re trying to encourage them to play a certain way.

“In terms of building momentum, when we played Silverbridge (first round) that was Rian and Cian’s first game for Cross this year. Jamie didn’t play. Then, against Dromintee, we didn’t fire on all cylinders in the first half and that was the first time the three of them had played a game together but by the time we got to extra-time they have familiarised themselves with each other.

“You can do all the training you like but nothing beats being out on the field and it came together in the period leading up to the Maghery game and those three guys in particular have added so much to the team this year in terms of energy and quality that everyone else has stepped up with them.

“It is very satisfying but I don’t think we needed to lose the two finals to win today. I think we were ready in both of those games but we didn’t execute the basic skills of Gaelic football of attacking and defending. We left scores behind us both days and we certainly left tackles behind us.”