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All Ireland Club Final: Five-star Crossmaglen Rangers prove they are the greatest

Crossmaglen Rgs. 2-11 St Brigid’s 1-11: Many had written them off as a force of yesteryear but Crossmaglen Rangers are back where they belong after they captured a fifth All-Ireland club title at Croke Park yesterday.

While Cross have dominated the best past of two decades in this competition, their opposition yesterday, Connacht champions St Brigid’s, were appearing in their first ever final.

The gulf in experience told as it was the more battle hardened Armagh kingpins which used all their guile in the second half to get over the line in a tense battle during which a result was never certain.

If it was the old hands of Rangers who knew how to win, the opening score came from the new generation.

Jamie Clarke, who was the game’s marquee performer popped over a neat effort off his lethal left boot.

Brigid’s most potent weapon on the day was without doubt the powerhouse full-forward Senan Kilbride.

His strength and aerial prowess made him almost unplayable. He got his side off the mark with a free.

Clarke and Kilbride again exchanged scores in the following minutes as neither side could gain a significant foothold.

Brigid’s centre forward Cathal McHugh got his side’s first score from play to put them in front but Cross embarked on a very productive five minutes.

Frees from Aaron Kernan and Oisin McConville got their noses back in front before the game’s opening goal.

A diagonal ball from Clarke was brilliantly fielded by midfielder David McKenna on the 21-yard line.

McKenna’s momentum caused him to fall to the deck but his quick hand pass found the onrushing Aaron Cunningham whose shot beat Philip Martin in the Brigid’s net.

It looked as if this was the signal for the champions elect to move through the gears but Brigid’s showed their mettle to get back on terms before the break.

In the following passage of play a long Frankie Dolan ball evaded everyone and fell kindly to Eoin Sheehy.

The wing forward only had Paul Hearty to beat but the 6’5 stopper brilliantly saved only for the rebound to fall back to Sheehy who finished into an empty net.

Dolan was again the playmaker a minute later as his superb pass found Kilbride who split the posts on the turn to leave it 1-5 each at the interval.

The Roscommon men came out all guns blazing at the restart. Kilbride again found his range from a dead ball before Frankie Dolan hit his first score with a close range finish.

But their lead was shortlived once more as McConville (free) and Clarke restored parity.

It was then that the turning point came. McKenna, who was on another of his many forages into opposition territory, mishit an attempted point.

It dropped at the edge of the square where Cunningham knocked it down to Clarke.

His quick feet created sufficient space for him to squeeze it into the bottom corner on 40 minutes.

McConville added a free to restore their four-point lead. They would not give it up again so easily.

Kilbride again was the source for the Brigid’s response. McConville was presented with the opportunity which would have all but clinched it only for him to blaze over.

Kilbride and Karl Mannion then struck points from all over 50 yards within a minute of each other to close the gap to just two.

That man McConville was again at hand to punish some indiscipline to give his team more breathing space.

Frankie Dolan should have responded but his close range free went tamely wide.

Kilbride almost became the hero but his rasping 20-yard drive was inches the wrong side of the crossbar.

Substitute Kyle Carragher got the insurance in injury time.

Cormac Reilly’s final whistle brought an end to a pulsating final which had a familiar result. Crossmaglen Rangers, the greatest club side in the land, and perhaps the greatest ever.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty, P McKeown, P Kernan, J Morgan, A Kernan (0-1), D O’Callaghan, S Finnegan, J Hanratty, D McKenna, J Clarke (1-3), S Kernan, F Hanratty, T Kernan, A Cunningham (1-0), O McConville (0-6). Subs: J McEntee for F Hanratty (28), M McNamee for Cunningham (39), M Aherne for T Kernan (49), K Carragher (0-1) for Finnegan (53), F Bellew for S Kernan (60).

St. Brigid’s: P Martin, R Kelly, D Donnelly, D Sheehy, I Kilbride, P Domican, G Cunniffe, G Dolan, K Mannion (0-1); E Sheehy (1-0), Cathal McHugh (0-1), D Dolan, Conor McHugh, S Kilbride (0-8), F Dolan (0-1). Subs: J Tiernan for Cathal McHugh (20), D Kelleher for Conor McHugh (51), D O’Connor for Tiernan (59).

Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).

Belfast Telegraph

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