Armagh Football final: Crossmaglen 3-09 Pearse Og 0-11
The status quo pertains. A 16th title in 17 years further emphasises Crossmaglen Rangers’ dominance of the Armagh Football Championship and cements the belief that they will be difficult to separate from their Ulster and All-Ireland crowns.
But hardly had referee Stephen Murray sounded the final whistle in this often fractious, over-physical confrontation at the Morgan Athletic Grounds than Rangers manager Tony McEntee was flashing a warning message.
“We will have to improve. We are delighted to have got over this match considering that we were playing against good opposition,” he said.
“We are getting some of our injured players back all the time but there are areas of our game that we have to work on.”
It was a defiant second-half showing and an ability to maximise goal chances that proved crucial factors in this latest Rangers triumph.
McEntee’s men certainly could not have asked for a better start. Just 15 seconds had elapsed when Johnny Hanratty swung over a majestic long-range point and with the match barely a minute old Jamie Clarke careered in from the left and drilled a low shot past the exposed Ciaran McKinney to thrust the reigning champions into a 1-1 to nil lead.
Yet it is a measure of the Ogs’ resilience and spirit that by the 10th minute they were only a point adrift.
Marc Cullen (2) and Conor Clarke pounced to remind the Rangers that defending their county crown would not after all be such a straightforward task.
As the match simmered menacingly — off-the-ball incidents abounded — the referee brandishing yellow cards to Aaron Kernan and Kyle Carragher.
Clarke’s predatory instincts helped him poach a 12th minute point and when Oisin McConville (pictured below with baby son Ryan) fired over an 18th minute free, Crossmaglen exuded a more comfortable demeanour.
But the central spine of their defence continued to look vulnerable and when Cullen and the seasoned Andy Mallon found themselves afforded very generous space they went through the ritual of picking off easy points for battling Pearse Og.
A series of sharp counter-thrusts by the Ogs culminated in Paul Duffy swinging over spectacular points in the 28th and 29th minutes that propelled them into the lead for the first time.
But it was a very short-lived advantage.
In injury-time Crossmaglen mounted a sustained assault and when the ball was swept across the face of the city team’s goal the lurking Tony Kernan was on hand to flick home to leave his side 2-3 to 0-7 ahead at the interval.
And it was Rangers who were to prove the major force in the second-half.
Patience, intelligent use of space and a ration of quality finishing sustained their momentum and after the three Kernan brothers — Aaron, Stephen and Tony — had landed points, the ubiquitous Clarke sealed a fine victory when he whipped in a 53rd minute goal.
Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; P Hughes, J Morgan, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-2, both frees), B McKeown, M Aherne; D McKenna, J Hanratty (0-1); K Carragher, O McConville (0-2, 0-1 free), T Kernan (1-1); J Clarke (2-2), A Cunningham, K Brennan. Subs: S Kernan (0-1) for Brennan (29 mins); S Finnegan for McKeown (45), C Comiskey for K Carragher (55), G Carragher for McConville (57), M Boyce for Hanratty (59).
Pearse Og: C McKinney; S Gribben, G Barton, G McCoy; P Duffy (0-2), A Mallon (0-1), D Parkinson; C Rafferty, J P Donnelly; A Duffy (0-1), C Clarke (0-1), S Clarke T Turley (0-1), K Hughes, M Cullen (0-5, 0-3 frees). Subs: S Moore for Hughes (36 mins), S Hughes for Carson (39), S Gribben for McCoy (59).
Referee: Stephen Murray (Whitecross).