Crossmaglen Rgs 1-8 Clontibret 1-7: Cross words in fiery finish
Drama and controversy in equal measure marked this narrow Crosmaglen Rangers victory over Monaghan champions Clontibret in a fiery AIB Ulster Club Championship quarter-final in front of 3,656 fans at St Tiernach's Park, Clones yesterday.
Two red cards and two penalties formed just portion of the Rangers menu on a day when their traditional resilience and staying power were tested to the full by a Clontibret side who will complain with some justification that referee Martin Sludden short-changed them in terms of some crucial decisions.
And not least of these came with the last kick of the game deep in the bowels of injury-time when Paul McGuigan's short '45' was fielded by Dessie Mone who was immediately fouled – but the final whistle precluded Clontibret from attempting to land the equaliser.
Immediately players from both sides became embroiled in an unseemly melee which saw Rangers substitute Cathal Short receive a straight red card and several other players from both sides rather fortunate to escape a similar censure.
Clontibret's anger and frustration were perhaps understandable yet the manner in which they had earlier conceded possession rather too easily and had failed to break down the Rangers steely resolve after John Donaldson had been dismissed in the 20th minute for striking Dessie Mone had, in essence, proved their undoing.
The Monaghan champions showed plenty of spirit and heart but they were unable to string their passes together with sufficient menace to cause real alarm in their opponents' rearguard.
In contrast, the reigning Armagh, Ulster and All Ireland title-holders played with greater economy, mixing their short and long game intelligently and landing scores at crucial stages to defuse Clontibret's efforts to take control.
The loss of Donaldson was the second blow Rangers had to absorb within a three minute spell, Oisin McConville having seen his 17th minute penalty eventually go wide after coming back off the post.
And this proved the spur for Clontibret to nose into a 03 to 0-2 lead, Vincent Corey giving them the edge after McGuigan and McManus had struck points in response to an early brace from McConville and John McEntee.
But Clontibret were to score just once more before the break, a Corey point in the 32nd minute, whereas Rangers had racked up a psychological a minute earlier when John Paul Mone had the misfortune to screw the ball into his own net after McConville had failed to convert his second penalty chance.
At 1-3 to 0-4 at half-time, Rangers were still looking vulnerable. And even though McConville and the enterprising Martin Ahern flighted over further points on the resumption, Clontibret's creativity and more direct style paid dividends in the 37th minute when Corey hammered in their goal after an excellent build-up by Dessie Mone.
Trailing by just a point at 1-5 to 1-4, Clontibret were suddenly presented with the opportunity to dislodge the Rangers from the driving seat but they were unable to take it.
Instead, Donal Murtagh's side gained a breathing space when Aaron Kernan and McConville swept over points and looked even more comfortable when Tony Kernan converted a '45'. Indeed, at this stage, Clontibret gave the impression they and not the Rangers were the side who were short-handed.
Yet Clontibret, still spilling passes with too much frequency and over-anxious on occasions, managed to reduce the deficit when Corey, Mone and Pauric Duffy all thieved points to set the stage for what proved to a tense - and violent - finish.
The Rangers carried a 1-8 to 1-7 into injury-time and were forced to defend desperately before conceding the '45' from which Clontibret launched their bid to escape with a draw.
But time was not on their side and Sludden's final whistle precipitated a rash of blows that did nothing to enhance the image of the Club Championship.
Rangers now march into a semi-final meeting with either Mayobridge or Dromore while Clontibret are left to rue a missed chance to make 2007 an even more memorable year from a Monaghan perspective.
Crossmaglen Rangers scorers: O McConville (0-3), J P Mone (1-0, o g), M Ahern (0-2), A Kernan (0-1, free), T Kernan (0-1, '45'), J McEntee (0-1).
Clontibret scorers: V Corey (1-2), C McManus (0-2), P McGuigan, D Mone, P Duffy (0-1 each).
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone).