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Omagh on a hot streak

St Enda's follow recent cup triumph by claiming coveted scalp of Giants cross

By Declan Bogue

The fairytale season of Omagh St Enda's continues. A first O'Neill Cup for 26 years five weeks ago, followed by the highest accolade a side can achieve in Ulster short of lifting the Seamus McFerran - beating Crossmaglen Rangers.

"It's absolutely sickening," was the verdict of Crossmaglen joint-manager Oisín McConville afterwards.

"I couldn't see this happening and when people asked me during the week how we were going, I would have said 'flying.'

"We didn't leave a performance out there. We were beaten and we are going home with regrets on top of regrets because we didn't play to any sort of level we are capable of."

Six points up at half-time, Cross had done everything you expected of them. Having noted Barry Tierney's influence in the Tyrone final, they attached Jamie Clarke to him at centre-forward, before drifting inside to the full-forward line, robbing St Enda's of their most effective ball-carrier.

At the other end, Ronan O'Neill began brightly, scorching past marker James Morgan to pot a goal in the bottom corner. Apart from that, their only other scores were an O'Neill free and a hard-won Jason McAnulla point in injury-time.

Cross bullied the middle. Tony Kernan knocked over frees, Jamie Clarke was elusive and helped himself to a brace of points while Kyle Brennan also clipped two over in the first half.

When it came to Omagh kickouts, they had noted from the county final how much Conor Meyler picked up as a sweeper. Therefore, Stephen Finnegan pushed up for the Omagh restarts, forcing Ryan Clarke to go long to the middle, where Cross' middle third dominated.

With just two minutes of the first half remaining, Cross won a break from an Omagh kickout and worked it direct to Padraig Stuttard - in from the start for Aaron Kernan who fell victim overnight to a bug - and he crashed to the roof of the net to assume control.

Omagh hung in there.

"It didn't look great at half-time," said manager Laurence Strain afterwards, "But we sat down and spoke, probably for longer than we were allowed by all accounts.

"We just knew we made an awful lot of silly mistakes. Whether we put that down to being nervous, not having played a competitive game in five weeks, who knows.

"Thank God in the second half and we threw caution to the wind and everyone produced a fantastic half of football."

Brennan hit a Cross point two minutes into the second half and that was to be their sole score for the rest of the game.

A rash of off-the-ball action, so often the cue for Cross to raise their game in the past, seemed to have the opposite effect. O'Neill, Connor O'Donnell and Conan Grugan from a free started to nibble away at the Cross lead, who had Callum Cumiskey red-carded after a black card for a foul on Conor McMahon and an earlier booking.

A minute later, disaster struck for the Armagh kingpins. O'Donnell created a goal for the inrushing Tierney to palm to the net and another spat of petulance had referee Ciaran Branagan consulting with his umpires before awarding a straight red card to Tony Kernan.

A huge Grugan shot carried in the breeze over the bar to level matters and no matter how hard Cross tried, they could not get over the numerical advantage. McAnulla and Conor Meyler did most of the heavy lifting, supported by a new-found midfield dominance of Joe McMahon.

With Cross suddenly vulnerable, Omagh struck again with an O'Neill point to take the lead for the first time with three minutes to go.

Ryan Clarke was in action to deal with a David McKenna high ball that dropped invitingly for Aaron Cunningham but it went wide off the Cross man's fist.

Fitting that O'Neill should have the final word with another point from distance.

Omagh's season continues to a semi-final meeting with the winners of the Roslea St Eunan's match on November 16.

Belfast Telegraph

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