Crossmaglen Rangers outbattle Dr Crokes to close in on sixth title
We have learned to have faith in Crossmaglen and when that faith is tested, days like this make a folly of our doubts.
There was a lengthy spell of Dr Crokes dominance in the first half, good enough to bank a seven-point lead, but how sound is any investment where Crossmaglen are concerned? Back they stormed and Crokes couldn't cope when the tempest was fiercest. They were blown away.
It wasn't a perfect day for the redoubtable Armagh men. They had Stephen Kernan red-carded in the second half after the linesman's intervention for an off-the-ball offence and they took a good while to assert themselves. But when they were good, they were very good and they will be odds-on favourites to win a sixth All-Ireland title when they meet Garrycastle next month.
Ultimately, the difference resided in Crossmaglen having the greater constitution for battle. They took the blows in the first half when Crokes seized midfield with glowing performances from Johnny Buckley and Ambrose O'Donovan. Up front, the Crokes attack sizzled with neat and enterprising football and delightfully choreographed attacking play.
Having lost an All-Ireland final at the same venue five years ago, the Kerrymen had the demeanour of men of slighted honour. O'Donovan was struck by a supporter's umbrella leaving the field in 2007 and played the first half as if anxious to show his grievance. The scores began to pile up. Colm Cooper put Crokes in front in the second minute and they led for the majority. Cross' lost their centre-back Danny O'Callaghan with an early injury and David McKenna came on to try to contain Buckley.
Andrew Kenneally missed a good goal chance but Crokes found the Cross' net in the 20th minute, Daithi Casey getting a touch to a diagonal delivery by O'Donovan. Seven points down, one point scored, Cross' hauled themselves out of the hole and Oisín McConville played a huge part in it. After scoring a fine solo point, he fielded superbly in a tight corner and teed up Michael McNamee who picked a gap in the crowded goalmouth - the gap was down to three points. By half-time, it was down to two and the momentum had massively shifted.
After that there was really only one team in it. Cross' restarted in a fury, spooning a previously subdued Jamie Clarke ball and attacking from all angles. McKenna helped turn the midfield contest and Kerry men who had featured prominently simply faded from the picture. Colm Cooper spent much of his time foraging deep and all the time tracked by James Morgan. After his first point he failed to register again from play and had little impact. Kieran O'Leary didn't sparkle either and his second half was mostly spent in isolation.
With a swirling wind and occasional sheets of rain and sleet proving no barrier, the All-Ireland champions drove forward. McKenna kicked an early point after the interval and then they went in front for the first time when relentless pressure ended with Stephen Kernan kicking a goal. Clarke popped up with a cheeky score and having been seven points down, they were now four to the good with 15 minutes left.
Kernan's sending off brought no immediate relief for Crokes but Eoin Brosnan sallied upfield and kicked their first score of the second half with 10 minutes left.
Two minutes later, they were level totally against the run of play. Chris Brady, just on the field, poked the ball home after the first effort rebounded off a post. Crokes' joy was short-lived. Two minutes later, Aaron Kernan picked up a break, took a side-step and planted the ball past Alan Kelly. Aaron Cunningham kicked a huge point and Cooper's late free was of scant consolation.
Scorers - Dr Crokes: C Cooper 0-3 (2f); D Casey, C Brady 1-0 each; A O'Donovan, A Kenneally, B Looney, J Doolan, E Brosnan 0-1 each. Crossmaglen: A Kernan 1-3 (3f); S Kernan, M McNamee 1-0 each; O McConville 0-2 (1f); D McKenna, J Clarke, A Cunningham 0-1 each
Crossmaglen: P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, S Kernan; M McNamee, T Kernan, A Cunningham; K Brenna, J Clarke, O McConville. Subs: B McKeown for O'Callaghan (inj 11); D McKenna for Finnegan (17); M Ahearne for McNamee (29); K Carragher for Brennan (45); G Carragher for McConville (63).
Dr Crokes: A Kelly; J Payne, L Quinn, K McMahon; F Fitzgerald, E Brosnan, D O'Leary; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; A Kenneally, D Casey, B Looney; C Cooper, K O'Leary, J Doolan. Subs: C Brady for Kenneally (51); S O'Neill for Looney (69).
Referee: D Coldrick (Meath)