Friday 24 March 2017

No mercy as power Rangers run riot

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If Ballymacnab had been told before this Armagh football final that they would hold Jamie Clarke scoreless, then they might have dared to dream big.

Clarke, after all, is one of the most scintillating young forwards in Gaelic football, full of tricks and deft touches and moves. At this level, you focus on preventing him first and foremost.

But curtailing Clarke is about the only redeeming feature Ballymacnab, making their first appearance in an Armagh final, will take from this embarrassingly one-sided fixture.

For their troubles, and they had plenty of them, they entered the record book for being on the receiving end of the heaviest defeat in an Armagh final. A 25-point winning margin didn't even do justice to how dominant the current All-Ireland club champions were here.

success

It was their 15th Armagh success in 16 years and given the nature of how easily they claimed a 39th title for the club -- their previous biggest winning margin in that sequence of 13 successive wins was 14 points in 1996 -- their prospects of securing back-to-back Ulster and All-Ireland titles will be high.

They were ruthless and professional in everything that they did. Aaron Kernan would reflect afterwards that one of the most pleasing aspects of the win was that they hadn't shown any arrogance.

Kernan got married recently and when he returned from honeymoon on the week leading up to the semi-final he was greeted at his first night back at training with the news from Tony McEntee that he wouldn't be starting.

"That was it," he reflected. "No one is bigger than this club. The way they look at it is everyone is the same. They don't treat anyone any different. It doesn't matter what you have done before. They go by what is happening at training."

For the final, Kernan was restored and delivered an almost flawless performance from right half-back. One moment more than any other captured the essence and desire of Kernan and, by extension, Crossmaglen themselves.

In the 48th minute, leading by 2-18 to 0-2, he made a run to get on the shoulder of his brother Stephen, took the pass from him and jinked left before switching to his right for his fifth point of the evening, his second from play.

Ballymacnab have risen from the junior ranks in Armagh but this first final experience was an unforgettable one. Only one of their three points was from play, through corner-back Chris Loughran in the 52nd minute, and they had their goalkeeper and captain Sean Hughes to thank for avoiding an even more humiliating defeat.

Hughes may have been culpable for continuously driving his kick-outs down into the hands of the grateful David McKenna, who dominated midfield along with John Hanratty, but his shot-stopping was incredible.

For those who thought Laois goalkeeper Eoin Culliton's display against Dublin in the Leinster championship earlier this year was special, this eclipsed it.

Crossmaglen were already 0-4 to 0-0 to the good on six minutes when the highly creative Stephen Kernan and Clarke combined to put in Aaron Cunningham but Hughes was out fast to block the shot. He denied Clarke seven minutes later and then saved a penalty from Stephen Kernan on 20 minutes to keep the deficit at 0-8 to 0-0.

By the break, Crossmaglen, who had played with the wind, were 0-12 to 0-1 clear and winning every individual battle. That trend continued with Aaron Kernan converting two more frees and then drawing another great save from Hughes on 36 minutes.

Cross substitute Kyle Brennan finally beat the Ballymacnab 'keeper on 41 minutes and John Hanratty grabbed a second goal as the floodgates opened even wider.

Hughes wasn't finished yet however and brought off one more magnificent save from Hanratty near the end.

Crossmaglen left Oisin McConville off until the 50th minute before he came on to contribute to his 15th Armagh success.

It was only their third match in the Armagh championship as their campaign only got under way at the quarter-final stages. It begs the question as to whether Armagh is serving itself best with a structure of just four rounds.

Cunningham's progress continued impressively here as he landed five points from play, while McKenna may never have it as easy again at midfield.

For Aaron Kernan, the joint management team of former players Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill, deserve all the credit.

"They have brought us to a new level of professionalism," he said. "We went away for a training weekend two weeks ago which is something we never did for an Armagh championship.

"But these boys are not into the fancy stuff. I've learned so much about Gaelic football in the last two years just by doing things the simple way."

The road narrows for them from now on though. St Gall's await them in Belfast in two weeks' time and vengeance will be on their mind. after last year's rout.

Scorers -- C'maglen: A Kernan (3f), A Cunningham 0-5 each, J Hanratty 1-2, M McNamee 0-3, K Brennan 1-0, T Kernan (1f), S Kernan (1f, 1 '45) 0-2 each, D McKenna, F Hanratty, O McConville (f) 0-1 each. Ballymacnab: R Grugan 0-2f, C Loughran 0-1.

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, A Cunningham; J Clarke, F Hanratty, M McNamee. Subs: K Brennan for McNamee (39), M Leonard for Clarke (45), M Ahern for Finnegan (45), O McConville for T Kernan (50), R Finnegan for J Hanratty (55).

Ballymacnab -- S Hughes; C Loughran, Dwayne McParland, Dominic McParland; B O'Hare, P Crilly, K Beagan; P Gribben, R Gribben; J Gribben, B McCone, J Gray; R Kennedy, G McParland, R Grugan. Subs: M Beagan for Gray (38), C Kennedy for Dwyane McParland (49).

Ref -- M Leonard

Irish Independent

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