Rueful Crossmaglen Rangers are no longer the kings of the Castle
Crossmaglen 0-12 Castlebar 0-13
Five points up with only 20 minutes played of this All-Ireland club semi-final, Crossmaglen Rangers can have no complaints about throwing this game away.
Could it be that one of the greatest-ever manifestations of club football are losing their ruthless streak? There were some tell-tale signs of that at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday night as they let their Mayo opponents, Castlebar Mitchells, book their place in the All-Ireland final against Ballyboden St Enda's on St Patrick's Day.
On five minutes, Cross were already three points to nothing up when a long delivery from Tony Kernan found Jamie Clarke with just one defender to shimmy past for a clear goal chance.
Instead he hesitated and when he did get his shot off, it trickled wide of goalkeeper Rory Byrne's post.
John Murtagh, on as a sub in the early moments for the injured Kyle Carragher, found himself through on goal just prior to half-time, with the lead at four points.
His shot skidded along the floor but Ray O'Malley's lunge blocked it. Castlebar worked it immediately up the field with the excellent Paddy Durkan notching his second of three points to leave a goal in it at the break.
In years gone by, Oisin McConville wouldn't have allowed those chances to slip.
His joint-manager John McEntee acknowledged how it counted as he said afterwards: "If we had have taken the chances that we missed… then they got a point which left them with a bit of momentum going into half-time.
"And that was probably a psychological boost to them."
He added: "It didn't dampen our spirits going in to the second half. It just might have helped theirs a little bit."
And how it did. From 13 restarts in the first half, Castlebar claimed only 38% of possession. Oisin O'Neill in particular, occasionally aided by Johnny Hanratty, foiled the westerner's marquee name Barry Moran.
That all altered in the second half. Moran grew into it, his height being a serious advantage. Durkan chalked up his third point shortly after the restart and a neat Neil Lydon shot, followed by a long range effort by Danny Kirby had Rangers in trouble.
They began delaying kickouts. Paul McKeown was lost to a black card. But most tellingly, they kept fouling, both in tackling and technically, such as picking the ball off the ground.
"We went in at half time and realised we hadn't played at all. We regrouped at half-time, we knew if we upped our game at all we would have a chance of winning," said Castlebar joint-manager, Declan Shaw.
McEntee felt that Cross were not given the benefit of too many marginal judgements from referee Eddie Kinsella, albeit he addressed it with great subtlety.
"I don't think too many calls went either way. There were certainly too many fouls given and too many of them within scoreable range. That was a serious problem we had. It wasn't our intention to foul, it definitely wasn't," he said.
The game developed into a shootout, but eventually, Cross' luck ran out. A late Tony Kernan effort dropped short, a Paul Hughes finish ended up just wide and left of the post. The final score of the game belonged to Barry Moran who came on the loop around to finish from the end of the 'D'.
From that moment on, the game descended into chaos and mini-scuffles.
"It's hard to get the balance right," said victorious manager Shaw afterwards of the battle they had come out on the right side of.
"You have to focus on winning the ball, first and foremost. I think they are savage in their tackling and they have everything down to a fine art. That's the first time we would have met that intensity all year. It took us 20 minutes to get up to that physicality and once we did, I thought we did well."
"At the end of the day we had our chances and didn't take our chances," McEntee rued.
CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; J Morgan, A Rushe, P McKeown; P Hughes, M Aherne, A Kernan 0-1f; J Hanratty, O O'Neill 0-2, 1f; M McNamee, S Kernan 0-2, T Kernan 0-2f; J Clarke 0-4, K Carragher, C Cumiskey 0-1. Subs: J Murtagh for Carragher inj (7m), S Finnegan for McKeown BC (35m), P Stuttard for McNamee (40m), R Kelly for Murtagh (57m), D McKenna for Stuttard (61m)
Yellow cards: Morgan (28m), Finnegan (50m)
Black cards: McKeown (35m)
Red cards: 0
CASTLEBAR: R Byrne; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, D Newcombe; P Durkan 0-3, E O'Reilly, R O'Malley; G McDonagh, B Moran 0-2; S Hopkins, N Lydon 0-1, S Keane; N Douglas 0-6f, R Feeney, D Kirby 0-1. Subs: F Durkan for Hopkins (40m), C Costello for Lydon (46m ), James Durkan for Keane (54m), A Walsh for R Feeney (55m), D Stenson for Douglas BC (63m).
Yellow cards: Keane (9m), McDonagh (44m)
Black cards: Douglas (61m)
Red cards: 0
Referee: Eddie Kinsella