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Crossmaglen Rangers show pedigree to set up huge battle with Errigal

By John Campbell

St Eunan's 1-07 Crossmaglen Rangers 3-11: Body blows. Crossmaglen specialise in them, they rouse the crowd with them, they are powered by them. It is because of them that they broke the will of Donegal champions St Eunan's and gained passage to the Ulster club semi-final with a particular hex in mind as they face old foes Errigal Ciaran.

Body blow number one; The game was only six minutes old when Oisin McConville speared a pass to Aaron Kernan, whose crossfield run took him to the edge of the small square, when he fisted across the goal for Kyle Carragher to palm home.

Body blow number two came after Eunan's had brought the margin back to three points at the beginning of the second half. From that moment, Cross worked frantically and frenetically to answer them back.

Eddie Brennan had done superbly well to read the break and march out of the Eunan's defence with the ball under his arm, but his double-hop meant that McConville was lobbing over the resultant free.

Two minutes later David McKenna kicked a monster point from under the stand that dropped like a stone from the clouds.

Then came the definitive moment, when referee Martin Higgins sent off the influential Mark McGowan, going on evidence from the umpire.

This came directly after Higgins did not punish an exchange of punches between Letterkenny player Eddie Brennan and Tony Kernan, despite being only yards away.

There was no way back for the Donegal champions after that.

During the week, comments made by Brendan Devenney to the effect that you cannot beat a defensive team unless you play defensive football went viral. In the early stages here it appeared that Eunan's were perfectly set up prove that theory.

While Cross swept the ball upfield and kept their shape, Eunan's curled up like a hedgehog and pushed their spikes out.

With Mark McGowan operating as a screen in between the two defensive lines they choked up the deadly inside forward line of Cross.

Aaron Cunningham roamed far and wide to get his hands on ball. McConville and Jamie Clarke loitered appearing harmless, but as ever, all they needed was a sniff.

And although Eunan's sought safety in numbers, they also moved the ball fast.

Conal Dunne was everywhere in the first half, securing possession in the half-forward line. Ross Wherity — switched from midfield to full-forward with John Haran — was serviced with early passes.

Still, Cross found a way.

Deconstructing St Eunan's careful gameplan took a bit of working out.

In the end, Stephen Kernan sat in on McGowan and once the wing-back was red-carded, the spaces opened up for them to truly impose their kick-passing game.

An exhibition move of kickpasses almost yielded a goal from Aaron Cunningham and when Cross are in this form, there is no purer footballing team.

Once they got a taste for blood, though, it was like a bear savaging a rabbit.

While this win was a fine one indeed, there will be some bad taste left in the way Eamonn O'Boyle, a member of the Eunan's management team was treated by Cross co-manager Gareth O'Neill.

Afterwards, O'Boyle claimed that he was pushed to the ground and knocked his head after a verbal exchange with O'Neill in the opening half.

Errigal Ciaran up next. After the game, Crossmaglen manager John McEntee was not paying any attention to the fact that in battles between these two great clubs, Errigal are unbeaten.

But you can be sure that the Glencull outfit will use it as a touchstone as the biggest game in the competition looms.

CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; P Hughes 0-1, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan 1-2, 2f (Finnegan, 48m), J Morgan, M Aherne (O'Neill, 48m); J Hanratty, D McKenna 0-2 (Capt) (McNamee, 43m); K Carragher 1-0, S Kernan, T Kernan 1x '45'; J Clarke, A Cunningham (Cumiskey, 51m 0-1), O McConville 0-4, 3f (Grant, 59m 1-0).

Yellow cards: Hanratty (28m), McKenna (29m), Morgan (40m), McNamee (60m)

ST EUNAN'S: JP Clarke; E Brennan, M Martin (Capt), C Park (A McClafferty, 59m); P Devine, E Doherty, M McGowan 0-1, 1f; R Wherity 0-3, R Kavanagh; L McMonagle 0-1, 1f (Gibbons, 44m, 0-1, 1f), C Dunne 0-1, K Rafferty; C Ward (Greene, 48m), J Haran 1-0, S McVeigh (Sharkey, 57m)

Yellow cards: McGowan (27 & 41m), Rafferty (30m), Dunne (40m)

Red card: McGowan (41m)

Referee: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh).

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