Monday 25 September 2017

Power Rangers prove too much for Crokes

The power of a jersey -- even the greatest can be affected by it. The sight of Colm Cooper failing to control a punted pass from Kieran O'Leary along the end line in the dying embers of this contest perhaps encapsulated the day he had and the extraordinary hold Crossmaglen Rangers have over every other club football team in the country.

The ball was wet, the conditions challenging, but you'd still have expected the game's best exponent to engineer something from the moment with Dr Crokes chasing a three-point deficit. He didn't get a second chance.

Once again the life had been squeezed out of opponents by a team who just have that inner belief that they are the best around and have the capacity to deal with any situation. The jersey and the tradition around it built up over the last 15 years, allows them that luxury.

Stephen and Aaron Kernan both scored second half goals from positions where they might have been wiser to have picked off points. If they had Armagh shirts on their backs, they would most likely have taken the safer option. But not with Cross, not with the weight of so much recent success empowering them. In the end those goals made the difference.

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They made no special plans for Cooper either. There was no double marking, no massed defence, they just allowed James Morgan to track him diligently. Yet they restricted him to just one point from play and, in truth, he had very little influence. He was on the margins throughout, with Crokes always struggling to get him on the ball in the right positions. How many counties would crave such an outcome?

Crossmaglen faced plenty of adversity throughout, but rode the storm each time. A seven-point deficit after only 20 minutes while playing with a very strong wind at their backs, should have left them with a second half mountain to climb. But by the break they had reduced it to a slight incline.

The 45th minute dismissal of their captain Stephen Kernan -- who had scored that spectacular goal for the lead 11 minutes earlier -- for an apparent strike on O'Leary left them defending a four-point lead with 14 men for the last quarter. They won by three.

"We don't plan for those sort of things, but you have to dig deep and that's what we have been used to over the years. We mentioned that at half-time," said Oisin McConville, the country's most celebrated club footballer, who now stands on the cusp of an achievement that will surely become untouchable.

"We were six points down in last year's semi-final against Kilmacud Crokes and we also dug deep," he added.

It was a pulsating game for the most part and there was an honesty about the combat, especially in the opening half which endeared the 4,084 crowd.

If there was any vague expectancy -- in the wake of the Derrytresk/Dromid junior semi-final -- of any potential flashpoints on or off the pitch, they quickly diminished.

Crokes were so quickly out of the blocks that a lesser team might have folded and looked to another day.

They dominated midfield through the powerful surges of Ambrose O'Donovan and Johnny Buckley, but more importantly the power of Eoin Brosnan coming through the middle from centre-back.

If there was one silver lining for Kerry football, it was the performance of Brosnan. He was a colossus throughout. Any uncertainty that stalked his relationship with the No 6 shirt last summer should be dispelled. In this opinion it was he who was most worthy of the man-of-the-match award at the end.

O'Leary, Jamie Doolan and Andrew Kenneally all showed neat touches of skill as they pushed clear in the opening 20 minutes, and when Daithi Casey applied the pressure to meet O'Donovan's delivery for a 21st minute goal, a 1-5 to 0-1 lead didn't feel like it was doing them justice.

Cross' had to act to prop up their midfield and shore up a defence from which injured Danny O'Callaghan was removed after 12 minutes.

When David McKenna came in after 18 minutes, he helped to wrestle the platform away from Crokes. Ultimately, when the Cross' management reflect on the game, they had more in their arsenal than the Kerry and Munster champions, McKenna being the case in point.

"When you look back at it, we had some serious players to bring on," accepted McConville. "When they looked at the bench they didn't have what we had."

McConville's catch from Tony Kernan's delivery and quick transfer to Michael McNamee created the first Cross' goal on 24 minutes and that was really the game changer.

Going in just two points down at the break "felt like a result for us," McConville would later concede.

The influence of Jamie Clarke as a target and the industry of Tony Kernan had a profound effect on top of McKenna's introduction, and when Stephen Kernan found a gap with that 25-metre shot four minutes after the restart, the momentum was all with Cross'.

A beautiful Clarke point pushed them 2-7 to 1-6 clear, but Brosnan rallied Crokes with a point before substitute Chris Brady reacted quickest to a loose ball in the Cross' goalmouth to level, 2-8 each, on 52 minutes.

With the wind and an extra man, it should have been their green light. Instead Aaron Kernan positioned himself perfectly to pick up a break, round a defender and beat Alan Kelly with a low shot for the lead again.

"If you look at most of Crossmaglen's goals over the years, you're saying, 'there was nothing on'.

"They take risks and they take chances and they go for the jugular when they see it and that's why they're in an All-Ireland final," conceded Crokes manager Harry O'Neill.

Scorers -- Crossmaglen Rangers: A Kernan 1-3 (3f), M McNamee, S Kernan 1-0 each, O McConville 0-2 (1f), J Clarke, D McKenna, A Cunningham 0-1 each. Dr Crokes: C Cooper 0-3 (2f), D Casey, C Brady 1-0 each, E Brosnan, B Looney, A Kenneally, J Doolan, A O'Donovan 0-1 each.

CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS -- P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, K Brennan; T Kernan, S Kernan, A Cunningham; J Clarke, M McNamee, O McConville. Subs: B McKeown for O'Callaghan (12), D McKenna for Finnegan (17), M Aherne for McNamee (29), K Carragher for Brennan (40),G Carragher for McConville (63).

DR CROKES -- A Kelly; J Payne, L Quinn, K McMahon; F Fitzgerald, E Brosnan, D O'Leary; A O'Donovan, J Buckley; A Kenneally, D Casey, B Looney; C Cooper, K O'Leary, J Doolan. Subs: C Brady (1-0) for Kenneally (51), S O'Neill for Looney (58).

Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath)

Irish Independent

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