Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

We'll be back on top: Hanratty

Cross ace Johnny backing emerging talent to start new era for Rangers

Ulster battle: Crossmaglen's Johnny Hanratty (left) clashes with Kilcoo's Paul Greenan in Sunday's Ulster Championship encounter

With the remnants of emotion still hanging in the air, Crossmaglen Rangers players exited the playing field.

Not since November 6, 2005 had they been beaten in the Ulster club Championship, on that occasion a two-point loss to Bellaghy.

Their supporters cheered them off the pitch in recognition of a team that died with their boots on. Trailing with seven points with 20 minutes left of regulation time, the Crossmaglen comeback was something else to behold before a final Kilcoo onslaught in extra time toppled the champions.

Showered and freshly tracksuited, Johnny Hanratty emerged from the loser's dressing room some time later. Throughout the week, his back had gone into spasm and he had been unable to train since the first game.

Putting the comeback into context, Hanratty summarised it well.

"We fought, we dug in, I don't think we let ourselves down. Hopefully the community is proud of us," he said.

"But we will be back. We are only young, most of us are around 26, 27 and there are another group of young boys coming in. We have a good minor team, a good under-16 team, so the future is bright for Cross."

Just like he had a week previous, it was Martin Aherne who levelled up to take the game into extra-time. Cross even had a late chance to seal a dramatic victory with a free-kick from wide on the right. Without a left-footed freetaker, it tailed wide instead.

Kyle Carragher nosed Cross in front for the first time in the first minute of extra-time, before a brace of goals took the game away from the control of the reigning Ulster champions.

"We felt we were strong at the time," said Hanratty of heading into the extra time.

"The goals killed us. They took their chances well, their running from deep really affected us."

"Their half-backs were running through us and maybe our legs were a wee bit gone in defence at that stage."

He added: "When boys face Cross they can get up for it that wee bit better. If they were playing maybe in Down they might not get up for it as much."

There are many impressive statistics woven into the Crossmaglen story, but as a consequence of their lengthy unbeaten run, Hanratty had never been beaten in the Ulster club Championship before last Sunday, having begun playing for the senior team in 2007 as an 18-year-old (pictured).

Even in defeat, there are things that can be taken from it, he maintains: "I know it's not right in saying, but the break will do us a world of good. We haven't had a break now in four or five years. Those boys will come back and we will be hungry.

"I remember the last time we experienced defeat. Sometimes you need to experience defeat to realise where you are and realise how much you need to push on."

He continued: "Now we will hurt for a couple of months, there is no point in saying we won't, but we will build it up again, regroup and come back stronger than ever."

Manager Joe Kernan wasn't entertaining a discussion of whether he will be there to guide them next year but when the Rangers gather to begin the 2014 season. They should have a group of special players such as James Morgan, Aaron Kernan, David McKenna and Jamie Clarke all fit, revived and healthy.

Hanratty refused to let their absences act as a life raft he could cling to.

"I know people were complaining and saying we were missing this player and that but that's no excuse. The boys in this panel are good enough and good enough to come on and do their job. That's why they are in the panel."

That lack of sentimentality and willingness to be hard on themselves possibly lies at the heart of Crossmaglen's success. Asked if there was any consolation at having taken part in a two-part classic, he answered, "Not here. When you are here, when you're beat, you're beat. We just weren't good enough, that's how we look at it.

"In 60 minutes, in the last two or three minutes when we needed a score to win it ... I think we had the same in Newry, had three or four chances to recycle the ball to get it to the shooter to have a shot, that cost us."

And as for Kilcoo?

"They are very good, they are well-organised, well-coached. It will take a good team to beat them. But maybe this game might come a bit quick, it is Ballinderry. The extra week might have helped them."

Kilcoo could become victims of scheduling, but their other side of that is that they have incredible momentum going into this Sunday's tie, against Ballinderry, this Sunday at the same venue and time.

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