Kernan red card spurs on Cross'
Crossmaglen R 2-9
Naomh Conail 0-10
Ulster Club SFC Final
WITH scarcely a glance, Oisin McConville steadied himself and off the outside of that right boot that has done so much damage to so many teams over the years, he brought the curtain down spectacularly on the 2010 season in Kingspan Breffni Park yesterday.
As McConville's only point from play began to slice in mid air and track towards the posts the Crossmaglen crowd were on their feet acclaiming such a fitting end to an eighth Ulster club title in 15 years.
It was a finish worth waiting for, just as this was a game worth waiting for after two postponements due to the inclement weather.
Crossmaglen had struggled at the hands of feisty opponents, no one more so that McConville himself; he was booked in the 23rd minute as frustration told with shots he would normally execute with far greater efficiency drifting wide.
Crossmaglen had trailed at half-time and looked to have put themselves in an even more precarious position when Tony Kernan picked up a second yellow card for an altercation with Leo McLoone off the ball.
But the response revealed everything about the mentality of the most successful club team of modern times as '14-man syndrome' kicked in again.
Within a minute McConville was slipping a shot beneath Naomh Conaill goalkeeper Stephen McGrath, following Jamie Clarke's incisive break as he ran onto Francis Hanratty's delivery.
It was Crossmaglen's second goal and allowed them to dictate the game on their terms. For much of the first half and early in the second half Crossmaglen had lost that privilege.
Kernan's departure was the trigger for Cross to ramp up the pressure and work rate in every department.
They had been sluggish up to then and were outplayed around the middle, where Naomh Conaill's core of Anthony Thompson, Leo and Johnny McLoone and Martin Regan had the upper hand. In that sense Crossmaglen joint manager Tony McEntee delivered a damning assessment of his team's opening 30 minutes.
"It was no more than a half-an-hour display," admitted McEntee. "Half-time triggered us, it gave us a chance to get restructured. I thought in the first half our defence was poor -- we were lacklustre marking our men. It was causing us trouble. That's why Francie (Bellew) had to go on. Our midfield struggled, we were very poor with no ball going into the forward line."
When it did go in Clarke always looked a handful. Suspended for the games in Ulster against St Gall's and Burren, his quality really told here.
He fired over an early point and was then on hand to take from Michael McNamee and turn his marker Tommy Donoghue superbly on 15 minutes for the opening goal and after Paul Hearty had blocked a snapshot from Leon Thompson at the other end and a Naomh Conaill handpassing move had broken down.
But it was a lead they didn't protect well, with Thompson in particular driving on a determined challenge from the Glenties men.
Dermot Molloy and Dara Gallagher kept the scoreboard ticking over with frees and when Molloy dispatched a magnificent effort on 24 minutes within close proximity to the sideline they were back in front, 0-6 to 1-2.
Curiously, Cross took off McNamee, who had just scored a point, in a tactical move to allow Bellew into the action as an extra defender.
Initially the ploy didn't appear to work but as the Armagh kingpins got control he was much more involved in averting any goalmouth danger
"We needed Francie because there were a lot of balls going in there in the first 20 minutes that were dangerous.
"They didn't get any goals, but they were very dangerous," explained Tony McEntee.
"We had to sacrifice young Michael McNamee unfortunately, but he was sacrificed so that Francie could come in and soak up the pressure.
That didn't work in the first half, but it did in the second and he came out with a lot of ball. He got forward as well -- he plays it as he sees it and he has a free licence."
There was universal agreement that the sending-off and subsequent goal effectively decided it.
"The key to the win was the goal straight after the sending off that gave us the opportunity to soak up pressure and hit them on the break. Fresh legs did it as well," said McEntee.
Naomh Conaill manager Cathal Corey saw it in a similar light.
"The one thing that Cross needed was a big incident to happen and they got a man sent off," he said.
"That gelled them again and got them going, got their intensity up and I suppose we never got a chance to regroup again once they got the second goal.
"There was no way back after that. They just closed every route to goal. We could not get a one-on-one, we could not get a chance, they just shut up shop on us, we could not get going all at all."
Naomh Conaill have come a long way in a short space of time but to win an Ulster title, inevitably you must deal with Crossmaglen.
When they slipped up in Armagh last year it was, according to McConville, the "wake-up call" they required.
Now they are back as strong and as difficult to beat as ever.
Scorers -- Crossmaglen Rangers: O McConville 1-4 (0-3f), J Clarke 1-2, T Kernan, M McNamee, A Kernan (0-1f) 0-1 each. Naomh Conaill: D Molloy 0-4 (0-4f), D Gallagher 0-3 (0-2f), B McDyre, J McLoone, L McLoone 0-1 each.
Crossmaglen Rangers -- P Hearty; P McKeown, P Kernan, J Morgan; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, D McKenna; T Kernan, S Kernan, F Hanratty; J Clarke, M McNamee, O McConville. Subs: F Bellew for McNamee (28), M Ahearne for Finnegan (37), A Cunnigham for S Kernan (40), K Carragher for Hanratty (50), J McEntee for McKenna (54).
Naomh Conaill -- S McGrath; T Donoghue, J Bonner, C Boyle; M Boyle, A Thompson, E Waide; M Regan, J McLoone; B McDyre, L McLoone, D Gallagher; J O'Malley, J Molloy, L Thompson. Subs: S Corcoran for L Thompson (49), J McKenna for O'Malley (57).
Ref -- J McQuillan (Cavan).