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Joe Kernan: Some folk just can’t stomach Crossmaglen Rangers success

Success, it is said, can often come at a price. Crossmaglen Rangers landed their eighth Ulster Senior Football Championship title in just 14 years last Sunday yet there would appear to be those who are prepared to cast aspersions on the manner in which this latest triumph was achieved.

Some sections of the media are even suggesting that Rangers have ‘bullied’ referees in the recent past and have tended to stretch the elasticity of the playing rules.

Whether such comments have their roots in envy, jealousy or just plain begrudgery I don’t know but it is most disappointing to note that the team’s ascent to the Ulster pinnacle has not quite found favour everywhere.

A perusal of a video-recording of any game will provide firm evidence that Rangers players most certainly do not engage in the practice of ‘bullying’ referees nor do they rely on what have been referred to as ‘dark arts’ for survival.

Straight away let me emphasise that I have absolutely no issue with the dismissal of Tony Kernan during Sunday’s decider. He lifted his hand and he had to go — the fact that a couple of other players engaged in the same activity and remained on the pitch is neither here nor there.

If referee Joe McQuillan gave a couple of questionable decisions, then these were not necessarily to the benefit of any one side.

No, on the day Rangers walked tall — and this makes the snide comments which have appeared in print and elsewhere rather more difficult to digest.

Gaelic football is a man’s game and should be played that way — there should be no scope for devious actions.

The current Rangers side includes many young players who are still learning their trade and it is essential that they have full respect for the laws of the game and the officials who are charged with implementing them.

What concerns me is that if sufficient mud is directed at the Rangers then some of it will stick — and that in my book would be totally undeserved.

At the end of last Sunday’s game, I had occasion to mingle out on the pitch with people whom I know from Kildare, Down, Cavan and Meath who were at the match, and you know what? They were all actually eulogising the Rangers performance.

Indeed, they admitted to me that they were there in the first place to see Rangers at first hand having followed their progress up until then via the media.

And the point was made to me by more than one person that with Rangers having won the Ulster title and teams like Kilmacud Crokes, Nemo Rangers and Dr Crokes still in the frame for titles in other provinces, the prospect of the cream coming to the surface in the All Ireland Club Championship is now rather more of a probability than a possibility.

That surely can only be for the good of football. When Rangers were beaten by Pearse Og in the quarter-final of the Armagh Championship last year, they took their setback on the chin, shook hands with their opponents and retired to Crossmaglen to lick their wounds.

But they are back — and very

much so — although this does not appear to sit comfortably with a section of the GAA fraternity. Given that most major club matches are now covered in detail by television, the opportunities to engage in the ‘dark arts’ must surely be limited if even possible in the first place while any possible ‘bullying’ of referees would surely incur the wrath of the highest authorities within the GAA.

The Ulster Council has just hosted what I feel was a tremendous competition in which the standard of play was high and the passion unrelenting.

The fact that the final had been postponed twice did not detract from its appeal nor its intensity — if anything, the unexpected ‘limbo period’ probably sharpened appetites for the game even more.

Had Naomh Conaill won the game on Sunday, the contents of this column today would have been construed as nothing more than sour grapes from someone associated with a losing team.

The fact Rangers won comfortably by five points in no way dilutes what I view as the sinister nature of the criticism to which the team has been subjected in some quarters.

And this in itself reflects the frustration and anger I feel in the aftermath of a thrilling game that proved a magnificent climax to a quality competition.

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