McEntee bemoans missed chances
AIB ALL-IRELAND CLUB SFC FINAL
THERE have been times during the last 15 years when Crossmaglen Rangers have come away from Croke Park on St Patrick's Day feeling that good fortune had favoured them that little bit more.
The 1999 triumph over Ballina Stephenites, when the profligacy of the Mayo champions threw them a lifeline which they seized in the last 10 minutes, and the 2007 draw with Dr Crokes, when Oisin McConville took a dubious amount of steps before planting the equaliser spring to mind.
Few teams, at club or county level, have prevailed in tight finishes quite like them.
They have it down to a fine art and, generally, don't get it wrong.
But on Saturday, before a crowd of 25,412, they experienced an entirely different sentiment -- an overwhelming sense that they left this All-Ireland club football final, arguably the best in recent times, behind them.
It's somewhat ironic to say this about a game in which they trailed throughout, but such was the totality of their dominance in the last 20 minutes, that a three or four-point win for Crossmaglen would not have been out of place.
"It's certainly a match we should have won," reflected manager Tony McEntee afterwards. "We drew level with five minutes to go and surely missed five chances at the end.
"All we needed was a simple bit of composure and we didn't get it. We completely owned the last 20 minutes of the match. It's frustrating that we only play in patches."
Garrycastle will also feel they could have prevailed.
They were dismissive of Crossmaglen's great tradition on this day right from the start and fronted up with a physical edge that seemed to unsettle their opponents for the opening 40 minutes.
However, in the wide open spaces, their reserves of energy emptied quickly. Eight of the team were listed in the match programme as being 30 or over and that may have been a factor on their first outing here.
"That happens when you lose the run of it," said manager Anthony Cunningham on their loss of control at midfield.
"We were unlucky to lose some of those breaks. But both sides can have regrets about not winning."
Garrycastle could hardly get their hands on a ball at midfield in the last 20 minutes. As a consequence, Cross' gained a foothold as Aaron Kernan shook off the memory of a sequence of uncharacteristic first-half mistakes to dominate breaks and drive through that wilting middle third in tandem with brother Tony, who was the architect of most of Crossmaglen's creative play.
Garrycastle's resolution not to take a step back ensured there was an edge to this pulsating game throughout.
Paul Dillon was extremely lucky to survive with just a yellow card after only seven minutes following an altercation with Brendan McKeown. It happened right in front of referee Rory Hickey, who chose the lesser option.
Likewise, Aaron Cunningham escaped with yellow after shunting out an opponent over the advertising hoarding later in the half.
It wasn't a good day for the Clare official. In his attempt to allow the game to flow, he failed to penalise many fouls in the second half, which proved a constant source of frustration for players.
The champions seemed to suffer more and McEntee drew on all the diplomacy he could muster when pressed to comment on the performance of the Clare referee. Asked if he had any observations to make on Hickey's performance, the Crossmaglen manager replied: "Not without suspensions following."
McEntee added diplomatically: "We did find it hard to get frees today. We certainly worked for those we got."
Inevitably, Dessie Dolan was Garrycastle's most accomplished attacker and really troubled James Morgan, who had kept Colm Cooper so quiet in the semi-final.
James Dolan and Patrick Mulvihill also made telling contributions, while Enda Mulvihill and John Gaffey, who fared better on Jamie Clarke when he switched to mark him, were solid in defence.
They led by 1-8 to 0-7 at half-time thanks to Mulvihill's goal on 21 minutes after Paul Kernan had dropped a speculative delivery into their goalmouth. Only Clarke's wizardry, which yielded three points, kept Cross' in touch.
By the 40th minute, Paul Kernan received his marching orders for a second yellow card that looked quite harsh. It rebalanced numbers after Tom McHugh's dismissal for two yellows four minutes earlier.
From the resultant free, Dolan pitched Garrycastle 1-10 to 0-8 clear and Cross looked in trouble.
Their transformation at that point was quite dramatic. Clearly irked by their brother's dismissal, Aaron and Tony Kernan really rolled up their sleeves.
Shot selections were poor, however, and Clarke had goal chances in the 42nd and 56th minutes which weren't taken.
Their captain, Stephen Kernan, will be back for the replay. Cross' had prepared for his probable absence. What they hadn't reckoned on was the editing out of his name from the programme. This left their manager more animated than his actual absence or their profligacy.
"I was more disappointed to be honest that the CCCC took his name out of the programme. We had him listed on the team programme pending his DRA decision on Thursday night.
"For some reason, they made up their own mind, took his name out and put in someone else's name in instead (Martin Aherne). I think people in admin should deal with admin and leave everything else."
SCORERS -- Crossmaglen Rangers: O McConville 0-6 (5f), J Clarke 0-3, T Kernan, A Kernan 0-2 each, D McKenna, M McNamee 0-1 each. Garrycastle: D Dolan 0-6 (5f), P Mulvihill 1-1, J Dolan 0-2, J Duignan, A Browne, P Dillon (1f) 0-1 each.
CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS -- P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, B McKeown; J Hanratty, D McKenna; M McNamee, A Cunningham, T Kernan; J Clarke, K Brennan, O McConville. Subs: S Finnegan for B McKeown (24), K Carragher for Brennan (28), M Ahern for McNamee (51).
GARRYCASTLE -- C Mullin; E Mulvihill, J Gaffey, M McCallon; K Henson, D Harte, T McHugh; S O'Donoghue, D O'Shaughnessy; P Dillon, P Mulvihill, G Dolan; J Duignan, J Dolan, D Dolan. Subs: R McGowan for Duignan (43), A Browne for G Dolan (46), A Fox for Henson (48), A Daly for Dillon (56).
REF -- R Hickey (Clare).