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Rangers rocked by Cross hero McEntee

Crossmaglen Rangers 0-09 Clontibret 0-10

Mixed emotions: Clontibret’s Conor McManus celebrates at the final whistle
Mixed emotions: Clontibret’s Conor McManus celebrates at the final whistle
John McEntee
Callum Cumiskey shows his dejection
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Three times these teams have met in the Ulster Club Championship, and on each occasion there has been just a single point in it.

This was Clontibret's first win of the three and with Ulster football being a small world really, the story of the game is how Cross folk hero John McEntee - now Clontibret manager - is the only one from both clubs to have a 100% record.

Such a variable is always going to have an impact, and Clontibret players talked of the professional and highly respectful job McEntee did of providing them with information on how to beat the club he won this tournament with numerous times as a player, and as a co-manager with Oisin McConville in 2015.

"Everybody thinks they know Cross. You could meet any man in a pub and he might think he could tell you how Cross play football," explained McEntee.

"At the end of the day, fellas have to have the confidence in their own ability and they have to believe in the game plan, they have got to go out and play it. It's one thing going out to try to stop Cross winning the match, it's another thing going out to beat them."

It was a strange evening for him. As one half of the McEntee twins, along with McConville, Francie Bellew, Paul Hearty and the Kernan brothers, they formed the nucleus of possibly the greatest ever club team in a period that stretched from 1996 to 2012. So as soon as referee Sean Hurson blew the final whistle, McEntee skipped down the tunnel into the Clontibret dressing room to collect his emotions, which must have been in a spin cycle.

Crossmaglen manager Kieran Donnelly made five changes in total to the team as printed in the programme, but this was less an effort to hoodwink McEntee than just the vagaries of having to name a team early in the week for printing deadlines.

The main change was the - as expected - inclusion of native Kerrymen, current Carlow footballer and now domiciled in Crossmaglen Christopher Crowley, who picked up Conor McManus from the start.

With Cross conceding the Clontibret kick-outs, the Monaghan champions bounced into a 0-4 to 0-0 lead. McManus opened with a tricky free before holding off the limpet tackling of Crowley to lace over his left foot effort from distance in a world-class score for the second.

Cross racked up seven wides in the opening period and their bigger names didn't really show up. Credit that to Clontibret and their homework as centre-forward Michael P O'Dowd and midfielder Killian Lavelle provided them with the kind of performances you need from the supporting cast to win these games.

It took 25 minutes for Cross to score from play and too long to implement a press on Clontibret goalkeeper Darren McDonnell's restarts as they went in at half-time 0-7 to 0-3 down.

Cross were always going to have a purple patch and they rattled off the first three points of the second half. But two misses from Oisin O'Neill and one from Cian McConville in this period did them serious harm. A dubious decision by the referee to award O'Dowd a free which McManus converted gave the Oriel men another big score in the context of football played on a boggy surface with rain spilling all afternoon.

The big moment came in the 57th minute when Rian O'Neill failed to convert a free that would have left one point in it. Less than a minute later, McManus nailed a tight angled free and that was the difference.

Clontibret's economy and maturity saw them home despite some late haymakers of high balls in from subs Mel Boyce and Tony Kernan and one from O'Neill. McDonnell batted away each time.

The final effort was a drive at a crowded goal by Paul Hughes, but even that was deflected over by a Clontibret hand.

Cross manager Donnelly said: "When your forward line scores three points (from play) in a match you're chasing the game.

"Best of luck to John - at least there is one happy Cross man tonight."

CROSSMAGLEN: T McConville; P Hughes 0-1, R Kelly, P McKeown; A Kernan 0-1f, C Cumiskey, C Crowley; S Morris, A Farrelly; J Hanratty, O O'Neill 0-2, 1f, C O'Connor; C McConville, R O'Neill 0-3, 2f, K Carragher 0-1.

Subs: T Kernan 0-1, for Hanratty, P Stuttard for McKeown (both HT), M Boyce for Farrelly (43m), J McKeever for O'Connor (50m).

CLONTIBRET: D McDonnell; C Doyle, C Boyle, L Savage; J Gormley, D Mone, C Greenan; F Hughes, K Lavelle; D Savage, MP O'Dowd, B Greenan; P Boyle, V Corey, C McManus.

Subs: D Hughes for P Boyle (48m), K Greenan for F Hughes (60m), E McGuigan for Savage (63m).

Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone)

Attendance: 4,564.

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