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Crossmaglen staying put on glory trail

Crossmaglen 2-19 Garrycastle 1-07: Nothing succeeds like success. And no team at any level within the GAA does success quite like Crossmaglen Rangers.

Stockpiling trophies has been a way of life for the club since 1996, the year in which a storied reign of dominance had its origins in the modest acquisition of an Armagh Championship crown.

Now, a decade and a half down the glory road, 14 more domestic prizes, nine Ulster Championship titles and an unrivalled six All-Ireland honours bear testament to a team that has re-defined history.

And in carving out this latest national coup against a Garrycastle team which discovered to their cost that clemency has no place on the Crossmaglen agenda, the Ulster standard-bearers rapped out the message that their benign dictatorship can be extended indefinitely.

The Rangers strategy of course has been painted into miracles of simplification — hard work both on and off the ball, endless tackling, fluent support play and textbook finishing.

Yet there is more to it than that. The ability to weave flashes of pure genius into games, an iron resolve which has long since seen the word ‘defeat’ consigned to the waste-paper basket and a penchant for merging steel and skill which gnaws at the very fabric of opponents’ morale.

Garrycastle will certainly know what I mean.

Francis Hanratty’s slickly-taken goals in the fourth and 17th minutes may have underpinned his team’s emphatic 2-8 to 0-4 interval lead but it was the frustration, vulnerability and distractions that the Westmeath side endured in the tight, robust, close exchanges up until then that ultimately blew them off course.

Rangers were much too focused and far too streetwise.

Indeed, by half-time, the seemingly ageless Oisin McConville — he’s 36, actually — a player who is perhaps more emblematic of the competitive integrity of the Rangers than anyone, had amassed half of his match total of six points.

Dessie Dolan’s admirable bid to lead the Leinster champions’ resistance against what was a raging tornado saw him loop over three points but his one-man show was nothing more than an irritant to Crossmaglen.

Referee Martin Duffy may have brandished yellow cards like confetti throughout the opening half but Rangers had already firmly laid down their marker — the only area of conjecture centred on Crossmaglen’s winning margin.

The reigning champions lost no time in coming up with the answer to that, either.

By the end of the third quarter, they were a mere dot on the horizon. The impressive Kernan brothers Aaron and Stephen, the former a dynamic force and the latter an inspirational skipper having missed out on the drawn game because of suspension, along with the ubiquitous McConville had helped fashion a 2-16 to 1-6 lead.

Gary Dolan’s out of the blue goal in the second minute of the second-half, instead of galvanising his own side, had forcibly reminded Crossmaglen of the acute need for maximum concentration, hence the points avalanche that ensured their tenancy in the comfort zone for the final quarter.

And as the Kernan duo along with sub Kyle Carragher posted further points, it became clear that the drawn game between the sides a fortnight ago had been nothing more than a small blip from Crossmaglen’s viewpoint.

Crossmaglen Rangers: P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-3, 0-2 frees), D O’Callaghan, S Finnegan; D McKenna, J Hanratty (0-1); T Kernan (0-1), S Kernan (0-3), A Cunningham (0-2); J Clarke (0-1), F Hanratty (2-1), O McConville (0-6, 0-4 frees). Subs: M McNamee for F Hanratty (42 mins), M Ahern for T Kernan (48), K Carragher (0-1) for Cunningham (50), G Carragher for P Kernan (52), K Brennan for McConville 957). Yellow cards: Hearty (1 min), O’Callaghan (15), T Kernan (18), P Kernan (37), F Hanratty (41), Cunningham (45), Ahern (57).

Garrycastle: C Mullin; M McCallin, J Gaffey, T McHugh; D Harte, K Henson, E Mulvihill; D O’Shaughnessy (0-1), S |O’Donoghue; P Dillon, D Dolan (0-4, 0-2 frees), J Dolan; G Dolan (1-0), P Mulvihill, P Duignan. Subs: A Browne for Duignan (25 mins), C Cosgrove (0-2, both frees) for Henson (half-time). Yellow cards: Dillon (24 mins), Henson (29), G Dolan (32), D Dolan (33), Browne (44), P Mulvihill (51).

Referee: Martin Duffy (Sligo).

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