All Ireland champions are into Ulster final again
Crossmaglen Rangers maintained their bid to keep a firm grip on their Ulster and All-Ireland Club football titles when they just edged out a gallant Dromore side in yesterday's provincial semi-final in front of 6,500 fans at Clones.
But the Rangers lived dangerously before securing their passport into yet another Ulster final, having absorbed tremendous pressure from their opponents in the third quarter and then relying on a superbly taken '45' from Tony Keirnan to see them through.
No wonder Dromore were utterly deflated at the finish - they had given everything despite having conceded two first half goals which had threatened to kill off their ambitions even before the interval.
But the resilience, spirit and belief delivered by Noel McGinn's side not only rattled the Rangers for the greater part of the second half but contributed to an absorbing contest - a match subsequently described by Ulster Council Chairman Tom Daly as "A glowing advertisement for football in the province."
Crossmaglen, out-gunned at midfield where Micky Garry and Barry Collins worked tirelessly for the losers, were forced to dig deep into the reservoir of skills, particularly when Dromore came back to level matters after having been five points adrift at one stage.
It was two opportunist first half goals from Martin Aherne that helped to give Rangers a comfortable foothold before the first half had ended, his early fisted effort for Aaron Keirnan delivery and then a prompt follow-up after a later shot was well-saved helped establish a strong platform for the reigning champions.
But Dromore, feisty and inventive throughout, still managed to pocket scores at regular intervals even on limited possession and although four points adrift at half time (2-4 to 0-6), they still looked capable of disrupting the Rangers rhythm.
And this is precisely what they did in the third quarter with Collin McCullagh (2), Sean McDonnell and Owen McCusker firing over points that threw the match right back into the melting pot. The authority and composure that Rangers had displayed in the first half was replaced by hesitancy and uncertainty as Dromore, profiting from two inspirational points from Ryan McMenamin, during a lucrative 15 minute spell.
There were great, passing and finished, forced Rangers manager Donal Murtagh to make a series of changes - and in this respect, Rangers were to play their trump card.
Murthagh sent John McEntee so elegant at centrethreequarters into full forward in a revamped attack and although Dromore still held sway in midfield, Rangers regained some of their poise in the closing stages.
Yet they were held scoreless throughout the second half, Aaron Keirnan's 42nd minute point from a free being subsequently complimented by brother Tony's towering point from a '45'.
And to add a note of poignancy to Dromore's defeat, their fullforward Shaun O'Neill was presented with a late chance to level the scores but miscued from a free to the relief of the huge Crossmaglen following.
When referee Joe McQuillan sounded the full-time whistle almost immediately, it was a sweet symphony to the ears of Rangers fans - and the death knell of a cherished Dromore dream.
Yet although defeated, the Tyrone champions revealed admirable qualities throughout only lacking the killer instinct that has sustained the Rangers for the past 12 years.
CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS: P Hardy; S Finnegan, T McEntee, P Kieran; A Keirnan (0-1 free), B McKeown, P McKeown; D McKenna, S Clarke; M McNemee (0-1), J McEntee (0-1), M Aherne (2-0), T Kernan (0-2 0-1 '45'), J Handratty, O McConvel (0-1 free). Substitutes: J McNeemee for McKenna (38 mins), J Murtagh for Handratty (43 mins), R Carragh for Aherne (49 mins), S Kiernan for McNemee (55 mins). Yellow cards: Aherne (16 mins), B McKeown (51 mins).
DROMORE: P Ward; F O'Neill, C McCarron, S McDonnell (0-1); Sean O'Neill, R McMenamen (0-2), R McNabb; S McMahon (0-1), M Garry; B Collins, C Mucullagh (0-3, all frees), S Fitzpatrick; E McCusker ()-2), Shaun O'Neill (0-1), K O'Brien (0-1). Substitutes: C O'Neill for Fitzpatrick (39 mins), E O'Neill for O'Brien ( 57 mins). Yellow cards: McCusker (9 mins), F O'Neill (20 mins), Sean O'Neill (26 mins), McNabb (41 mins).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cava).