Crossmaglen R 0-17 Ballinderry 1-10: All-Ireland champions Crossmaglen are through to the Ulster final again but not without a scare before beating Ballinderry in yesterday's entertaining provincial semi, at Casement Park.
The holders survived for a crack at either Burren or Latton on November 27 with four points to spare but it took a finishing flourish to secure victory after 14-man Ballinderry turned in a superb second half comeback.
At half-time it looked as if the Rangers had already booked their spot in the decider.
They were 0-11 to 0-4 ahead and the challenging Shamrocks were reduced to 14 players, as full-forward Martin Harney was dismissed, on a second yellow card, seconds before the whistle.
Crossmaglen stormed off with four points in four minutes, the first from Oisin McConville after his lob bounced over the bar on 30 seconds. Stephen Kernan, Michael McNamee (pictured) and Aaron Kernan (free) cracked over the next three points.
Two pointed free-kicks from Conleith Gilligan eased the pressure on the Derry champions but the Rangers continued to control the play, despite the hard work of Ray Wilkinson, midfielder Kevin McGuckin and Gilligan.
Ballinderry were often their own worst enemy as they persisted in giving the ball away with the turnovers putting tremendous pressure on their defence. The Rangers also had more guile about their play and they won the big percentage of breaking ball.
In the 12th minute, a one-two knifing attack by Wilkinson and Darren Conway ended with a great save by Paul Hearty while minutes earlier, at the other end, a goal-bound shot from Stephen Kernan brought a super save from Michael Conlon.
Ballinderry were lightweight in attack while Cross had options with Aaron, Stephan and Tony Kernan plus McNamee and Jamie Clarke totting up scores to leave the holders 0-11 to 0-4 ahead at the break. It looked like it would be too much of a struggle for Ballinderry, now reduced to 14 men, to make any impression but the Shamrocks rose magnificently to their task after skipper Kevin McGuckin moved out from full-back to No.6 and Darren Conway went forward. The Derry champions were transformed. They rifled over three points in three minutes before McConville stopped the comeback with a brilliant point from a far out angled free-kick.
It was 0-12 to 0-7 when Ballinderry struck with a vengeance on 50 minutes. Michael McIvor scythed in from the right and was brought down in the ‘square'.
From the penalty kick, Gilligan blasted the ball low and into the Rangers' net to leave just a point between the teams. Crossmaglen answered from a McConville free-kick but Aaron Devlin left the minimum between the sides again.
It was then that Cross showed their true worth to fire over three late points and slam the door closed on the challengers. Aaron Kernan got a second yellow card a minute from time.
“We needed that close game going into the final,” reflected Jamie Clarke.
“This was really our first big challenge and I'm glad we survived. Ballinderry is a proud club and their players gave it all in the second half.
“We have still a lot of work to do over the next fortnight and I was a bit out of my depth playing at half-forward today.”
CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; J Morgan, B McKeown, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-5, 4f), D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, D McKenna; T Kernan (0-2, 1f), S Kernan (0-3), A Cunningham; J Clarke (0-1), O McConville (0-4, 2f), M McNamee (0-2). Subs: K Brennan for McNamee (40), F Hanratty for Finnegan (44), K Carragher for J Hanratty (48).
BALLINDERRY: M Conlon; D Bell, K McGuckin, C Wilkinson; R Wilkinson (0-3), D Conway, R Scott; K M McGuckin, E Muldoon; A Devlin (0-1), C Nevin, N McIvor; C Gilligan (1-5, 1-0 pen, 3f), M Harney, R Bell (0-1). Subs: C Devlin for Nevin (40), D McGuckin for D Bell (56).
Referee: M Sludden (Tyrone)