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Crossmaglen Rangers have it all to do again after stirring draw

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-15 Garrycastle 1-12

By John Campbell

It was dynamic wing-back Aaron Kernan who perhaps best summed up Rangers flirtation with disaster in this gripping All-Ireland club football final when he referred to the game as “a learning curve on which we should not have found ourselves.”

On the key scores of experience, tradition and driving ambition the odds were stockpiled in the Ulster champions’ favour.

Yet Garrycastle’s more earthy virtues which encompassed grit, frenetic support play and surprising staying power were to serve them well in a contest that deserved a better audience than the 25,000-odd that filtered through the Croke Park turnstiles.

Dessie Dolan had served ample notice that his free-taking skills could puncture Rangers’ morale, Sean O’Donoghue and David O’Shaughnessy had bedded down comfortably in midfield and Patrick Mulvilhill’s 20th minute goal had instilled unscripted belief into the Garrycastle ranks.

Jamie Clarke’s sniping skills allied to scores from Michael Namee, Oisin McConville and the Kernan brothers Aaron and Tony had helped to sustain the notion that all was not lost from the Rangers’ viewpoint when they trailed by 1-8 to 0-7 at the break.

And this was given further credence in the third quarter when, following the dismissal of Garrycastle’s Tom McHugh and the banishment of Rangers full-back Paul Kernan, the Ulster standard-bearers whipped over five unanswered points between the 41st and 48th minutes that forcibly reminded Garrycastle they were dealing with an elite challenge.

Veteran McConville’s brace from frees and one from play emphasised that the older the fiddle the sweeter the tune while Tony Kernan’s vital strike formed just one element of his impressive man of the match portfolio.

Dolan’s seventh point in the 50th minute had been followed by another from Mulvihill three minutes later to ensure that the reigning champions were kept at full stretch. Yet even when McConville swept over his sixth point in the 54th minute and the hard-working David McKenna thundered over a spectacular effort from far out on the right to create stalemate at 0-15 to 1-12 tradition still suggested a grand finale.

But a number of missed opportunities mean that another difficult shift at the coal face is imminent. Somehow, though, I cannot see lightning strike twice when the replay takes place.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-2), D O’Callaghan, B McKeown; D McKenna (0-1), J Hanratty; T Kernan (0-2), K Brennan, A Cunningham; J Clarke (0-3), M McNamee (0-1), O McConville (0-6, 0-5 frees). Subs: S Finnegan for B McKeown (24 mins), K Carragher for Brennan (28), M Ahern for McNamee (51), F Hanratty for Carragher (55). Yellow cards: P Kernan (2 mins), B McKeown (7), Cunningham (20), J Hanratty (61). Red card: P Kernan (39 mins).

Garrycastle: C Mullin; M McCallan, J Gaffey, T McHugh; K Henson, D Harte, E Mulvihill; D O’Shaughnessy, S O’Donoghue; P Dillon (0-1, free), D Dolan (0-6, 0-5 frees), J Dolan (0-2); G Dolan, P Mulvihill (1-1), J Duignan (0-1). Subs: R Magown for Duignan (44 mins), A Browne (0-1) for J Dolan (46), A Daly for Dillon (56). Yellow cards: Dillon (26 mins), McHugh (14). Red card: McHugh (35 mins).

Referee: Rory Hickey (Clare).

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