The clash of the 2011 and 2010 All-Ireland Champions should have been a thriller, at Casement Park yesterday, but it was far from that. Instead, it was a niggling affair that reigning champions Crossmaglen dominated.
The 11 points margin in no way tells the tale of the winners’ dominance, throughout, as it took two slack goals during the second half for St Gall’s to stay in touch.
Crossmaglen had the answers all over the field with a lively attack and a tight defence for the most part.
When big Darren O’Hare was switched from midfield to full-forward for the second half, that Cross rearguard was put under pressure but, still, there never seemed a chance that the Antrim champions might stay on line to repeat their Ulster and national success of spring 2010.
The game was littered with fouls as Cavan referee Joe McQuillan flashed 10 yellow cards and one red one.
The dismissal was to St Gall’s CJ McGourty, one minute from the end of the match after the winger had been booked a minute earlier. It was a harsh decision.
Five of those bookings — three for the Armagh men and two for the Antrim boys — were pencilled into McQuillan’s black book within seven minutes of the throw-in.
St Gall’s were hampered by a spate of injuries before the game as five changes were made to their announced line-out.
In the warm-up Karl Stewart and Rory Gallagher broke down, although Stewart did enter the game in the second half.
As they always aim to do, Cross shot off the blocks at speed with intent to take control.
That they did, with a strong pull around midfield, and stormed into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after 20 minutes.
The goal, the first score of the match, was knocked home by always dangerous Jamie Clarke on 10 minutes after a defender fumbled a probing centre from Tony Kernan. With points popping over, Cross led by 1-5 to 0-2 at half-time.
The second half had an explosive start with the Rangers all but wrapping up victory inside two minutes.
From the restart, Cross broke forward at speed and after a three-man defence splitting move, Cunningham blasted to the St Gall’s net from a Clarke assist on 30 seconds.
The cheers hadn’t died down when the green flag went up again.
Veteran Oisin McConville, was hauled down in the ‘square’ for a penalty award which he, himself, blasted home to leave the winners 3-5 to 0-2 ahead.
A 12 points lead looked too big for the Belfast boys to have any chance of overhauling.
When Michael Pollock ghosted in for a shock goal, following a centre from O’Hare, and Karl Stewart finished another O’Hare lob to the net the margin was cut to 3-7 to 2-3.
Stewart had a great chance of another goal but blasted over before Tony Kernan closed the scoring from a ‘45’.
Manager Tony McEntee was not too happy, despite his team’s victory.
“Not happy at all,” McEntee stressed. “After half-time we should have put St Gall’s out of sight as we led 3-5 to 0-2 but we let them back into the game.
“We dominated the game but the indiscipline in our game wasn’t good.
“The injury to Paul Kernan in the first half and to Johnny Hanratty in the second half is worrying.
“Paul dislocated his shoulder and, although it was put back in again, we won’t know the damage until he gets a scan.
“Johnny was concussed and has gone to hospital.
“Hopefully, both players will be okay to face Ballinderry in the semi-finals.”
CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan (0-3, 2f), D O’Callaghan, S Finnegan (0-1); J Hanratty (0-1), D McKenna (0-1); T Kernan (0-1, a ‘45’), S Kernan (0-1), A Cunningham (1-1); J Clarke (1-0), F Hanratty, M McNamee. Subs: B McKeown for P Kernan, inj (28), O McConville (1-0, pen) for F Hanratty (half-time), K Brennan for McNamee (39), M Aherne for J Hanratty, inj (51), M Lenaghan for Cunningham (65).
ST GALL’S: Ronan Gallagher; D Harbinson, C Brady, P Veronica; M Kelly, A McClean, S Kelly; D O’Hare, S Burke; T O’Neill, A Healy, K McGourty; CJ McGourty (0-3, 2f), K Niblock (0-1), M Pollock (1-0). Subs: K Stewart (1-1) for O’Neill (42), M McGowan for Healy (51), S McAreavey for Burke (61).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).