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Kilcoo finally finish Crossmaglen

By Declan Bogue

Crossmaglen Rangers 1-8 Kilcoo 3-10: A drama such as this needed the room to breathe. Kilcoo inflicted a first defeat for Crossmaglen in Ulster club football since 2005, but this contest deserves more than such trifling details.

After the match, Kilcoo went into instant tunnel-vision, declining any media requests for interviews.

Joe Kernan and Cross talked freely of their legacy, success and the fact that they will be back next year. Bigger and better, as ever.

Such a finely-balanced battle required authoritative refereeing, and manager Kernan graciously acknowledged that Joe McQuillan performed a magnificent job in this sometimes scrappy, but nonetheless compelling, epic.

In the final analysis, he will be consoled by the level of absences. Paul Kernan, Ronan Finnegan and James Morgan were already gone. Aaron Kernan remains sidelined with an Achilles problem and David McKenna was ruled out with a torn calf from the first game. Johnny Hanratty was suffering back spasms, Aaron Cunningham began the day on the bench with a shoulder injury and with Jamie Clarke away travelling, they lacked a bit of craft.

A total of 9,670 souls who came through the gates comprised the record-breaking attendance at an Ulster club match. They got untrammelled intensity. Kilcoo were keen to keep the ball moving and out of the contact zone. If a ball came head-height, it was often flicked off to a supporting player, most expertly by the likes of Paul Greenan and Gerard McEvoy.

When they broke, they could find Conor Laverty in space, although he drifted a couple of shots wide that should really have left Kilcoo in a stronger position than their 0-5 to 0-2 half-time lead.

When Stephen Kernan took Conor Laverty down around the neck and conceded a penalty that Paul Devlin neatly tucked away, it appeared that Rangers were going out without a fight.

And then Cross bared their souls with determination to retrieve a seven point deficit with 20 minutes remaining.

A trio of points from Tony Kernan, substitute Cunningham and an inspiring score from Calum Cumiskey from the Drumarg park side of the pitch set them on a roll.

Kyle Carragher's pass gave Tony Kernan a sight of the goal on 52 minutes and his shot spun off the attempted block of Sean O'Hanlon and past the wrong-footed Kilcoo goalkeeper Stephen Kane.

Just as he had the last day, Martin Aherne got on the ball in the next play and sent it over to level matters with seven minutes left.

Both sides had chances to win it in normal time but Crossmaglen lacked a left-footed freetaker to convert the kind of free that Aaron Kernan would usually lap up when Stephen Kernan drifted one wide. At the other end, a Darragh O'Hanlon free and Jerome Johnstone effort from play both went the wrong side of the post.

The long whistle sounded. The first round of the Ulster club would last over 160 minutes for Cross and Kilcoo. Carragher's point in the first minute of extra-time gave the Rangers their first lead of the afternoon, but it was to be their last score.

Then Darragh O'Hanlon darted through and dished off to Ryan Johnstone who slipped it under Paul Hearty.

The impish Laverty was directing all the Kilcoo attacks and when he jinked his way into space and spotted Paul Devlin's run, the ball was thumped high to the net for another goal and the final hammer blow.

Cross went down to 13 men when Stephen Kernan and Paul McKeown were dismissed late on.

Kilcoo face another war on Sunday, this time against Ballinderry, but as they departed the field with their following chanting "UTM!" (Up the Magpies), they would have felt the satisfaction that comes with creating a classic and enjoying the spoils.

CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; P Hughes, P McKeown, S Finnegan; M Aherne (0-1), G Carragher, D O'Callaghan; J Hanratty, T Kernan (1-3, 3f); M McNamee, S Kernan, C Cumiskey (0-2); K Brennan, K Carragher (0-1), C O'Neill. Subs: P Og Grant for McNamee (35), M Boyce for O'Neill (35), A Cunningham (0-1) for K Brennan (47). Extra-time sub: K McShane for Hanratty (79)

KILCOO: S Kane; N Branagan, N McEvoy (0-1), D Branagan; D O'Hanlon (0-4, 3f), S O'Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy (0-1); P Greenan, A Branagan; P Devlin (2-2, pen), J McClean (0-1), R Johnston (1-1); N Morgan, C Laverty, Gary McEvoy

Subs: S Devlin for Gary McEvoy (54), J Johnston for Morgan (58). Extra-time sub: F McGreevy for J Johnston (79)

Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)

Attendance: 9,670.

Belfast Telegraph

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