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All Ireland Club Championship: Crossmaglen fail to sparkle but still win

By John Campbell

Crossmaglen 1-8 Neasden Gaels 0-5: What should have been a straightforward day at the office for Armagh and Ulster Club champions Crossmaglen Rangers instead morphed into a dour, unrelenting battle in the Ruislip mud yesterday.

Crossmaglen eventually shook off the tenacious challenge of British champions Neasdon Gaels to book their place in next month’s All-Ireland Club Football semi-finals.

A playing surface that had hosted a hurling match just 24 hours earlier and the fact that the umpires and linesmen were all drawn from the London Board gives some idea of the obvious lack of respect which the powers-that-be had for this particular contest.

Yet while the pre-match arrangements were less than impressive, the fact that some minor surgery had been carried out to the Rangers line-up coupled with Neasdon’s marked appetite for physical fray ensured that stamina rather than style and brawn rather than brain would prevail.

With veteran John McEntee starting at midfield, Brendan McKeown restored at half-back for his first match in many months and David McKenna pitched into the rather unfamiliar role of centrethreequarters, it was hardly surprising that Crossmaglen’s familiar fluency was conspicuous by its absence in the first-half.

A sterile battle, waged mostly in the middle third of the park, saw flair contained to a large extent and when the visitors led by 0-3 to 0-2 with 15 minutes gone it was more through Oisin McConville’s renowned individual scoring touch than anything else.

By half-time Rangers had asserted their authority and extended their lead to 0-5 to 0-2.

McConville and Aaron Kernan both landed a brace with Martin Ahern pilfering their other score while Peader Friel and David Carty were on target for Neasdon.

With Aidan Flanagan, Colm McGoldrick and John Rafferty immersing themselves in a rugged battle for second phase possession, Neasdon’s feisty approach after the break bore fruit.

Carty (two) and Michael Toner steered over points in response to a further double strike from McConville to leave the home side just two points in arrears at 0-7 to 0-5. And Rangers had particular reason to be thankful that McConville was on target yet again as goalkeeper Paul Hearty was forced to make a magnificent save from Carty.

As it was, the visitors played their trump card in the closing stages when Franny Hanratty, who had been introduced as a substitute for Michael McNamee, pounced for the only goal of the game to give his side a six-point victory that they scarcely deserved on the overall run of play.

Crossmaglen will now play the winners of the Leinster championship in the semi-finals on February 26.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty, P McKeown, P Kernan, J Morgan, A Kernan (0-2, 0-1 free), D O’Callaghan, B McKeown, J Hanratty, J McEntee, J Clarke, D McKenna, M Ahern (0-1), T Kernan, M McNamee, O McConville (0-5, 0-3 frees). Subs: S Finnegan for B McKeown, S Kernan for Ahern, F Bellew for T Kernan, F Hanratty (1-0) for McNamee.

Neasdon Gaels: J McNamara, C O’Flynn, J Geraghty, T Dougan, P McCone, T Caughran, B Comer, C McGoldrick, A Flanagan, J Rafferty, P Geraghty, J Scanlon, D Carty (0-4, all frees), P Friel, S Lynch. Sub: M Toner (0-1) for Geraghty

Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo).

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