Clarke steers clinical Cross' to fifth crown
St Brigid's 1-11
Nemo Rangers may lead the overall AIB club football honours' list, but there's no disputing who has been the dominant force over the last 15 seasons.
The Andy Merrigan Cup left Croke Park and headed north for the fifth time since 1997 last night, having been once again secured by the phenomenal force that is Crossmaglen Rangers.
St Brigid's, appearing in their first All-Ireland final, subjected the Armagh champions to several stress tests, but it wasn't quite enough to provide the crucial edge, which might have enabled them to become the first Roscommon club to win the All-Ireland title.
Instead, it was the ordered structure, the unquestioned inner resolve and the clinical execution of vital chances which Crossmaglen brought to the game that proved the tie-breaker.
St Brigid's presented them with far more problems than the odds suggested, but once Crossmaglen survived an uneasy period either side of half-time, they settled into a rhythm which saw them safely home.
Crossmaglen's reputation for facing up to challenges with courage and conviction has long since been established as one of their main strengths and it stood to them once again after St Brigid's went two points clear, 1-7 to 1-5, a minute after half-time.
Oisin McConville pointed a free after Brigid's goalkeeper Philip Martin had been penalised for over-carrying and Jamie Clarke levelled it up with an excellent point in the 38th minute. It was his third of the day and he made an even more significant intervention a minute later when his smart positioning took him into the perfect channel to avail of an opening and he steered the ball carefully to the net.
McConville pointed a free to put Crossmaglen four points ahead, but the stubbornness which St Brigid's displayed against Killererin in the Connacht final and Nemo Rangers in the All-Ireland semi-final was once again summoned as the Roscommon champions desperately battled for survival.
They twice pared the deficit back to two points and also missed some good chances -- including two from Frankie Dolan and one from the otherwise excellent Senan Kilbride in the final five minutes -- but just couldn't regain parity with Crossmaglen, whose control of possession was that bit smarter.
Still, it was nervy for Crossmaglen as they took a two-point lead into the final minute, but they worked their way deep into enemy territory and sub Kyle Carragher burrowed along the endline before flicking the ball over the bar.
It was the final score in a game where the sides were level five times in the opening 26 minutes.
Clarke put down an early marker with a well-taken point, which served Brigid's with clear notice that he had menace on his mind.
At the other end, St Brigid's full-forward, Senan Kilbride was causing serious problems with his ball-winning and accuracy from frees and open play.
It was point-for-point for the first quarter before McConville put Crossmaglen ahead in the 22nd minute and they struck again shortly afterwards when David McKenna and Clarke played Aaron Cunningham through for a goal.
It raised the first serious question of the day for St Brigid's and their response was quick and emphatic, with Eoin Sheehy beating Paul Hearty at the second attempt in the 24th minute.
By half-time, St.Brigid's had drawn a point clear (1-6 to 1-5) and were also ahead on the economy scale, having kicked three wides to Crossmaglen's six. Frankie Dolan had played a major part in St Brigid's very enterprising period before half-time with his clever use of the ball creating openings on a number of fronts.
Stephen Kernan fulfilled a similar role for Crossmaglen in the second half and, with Clarke and McConville always looking dangerous, St Brigid's had plenty to contend with.
Crossmaglen midfielder, David McKenna made a number of excellent catches in the second half, in particular, but St Brigid's refused to yield and built up considerable momentum of their own. However, they weren't able to provide Kilbride with enough consistent support up front.
Brigid's remained on Crossmaglen's shoulder right to the finish, but lacked the vital craft which might have nudged them to victory.
Still, it was a mighty effort by a club which has put down such deep foundations that it's quite likely they will be back challenging for the big prize in the near future.
As for Crossmaglen, the success story now has another chapter to add to those scripted in 1997, '99, 2000 and 2007. Given the stature of the club, there's probably a lot more to come.
Scorers -- Crossmaglen: J Clarke 1-3, O McConville 0-6 (4f), A Cunningham 1-0, A Kernan (f), K Carragher 0-1 each. St Brigid's: S Kilbride 0-8 (5f), E Sheehy 1-0, Cathal McHugh, F Dolan, K Mannion 0-1 each.
Crossmaglen -- P Hearty 7; P McKeown 7, P Kernan 6, J Morgan 7; A Kernan 7, D O'Callaghan 7, S Finnegan 6; J Hanratty 7, D McKenna 8; T Kernan 7, A Cunningham 6, F Hanratty 5; J Clarke 9, S Kernan 8, O McConville 7. Subs: J McEntee 6 for F Hanratty (28), M McNamee 6 for Cunningham (40), M Aherne 5 for T Kernan (48), K Carragher 7 for Finnegan (53), F Bellew for S Kernan (60).
St Brigid's: P Martin 6; R Kelly 7, D Donnelly 7, D Sheehy 6; I Kilbride 7, P Domican 7, G Cunniffe 7; G Dolan 6, K Mannion 7; E Sheehy 6, D Dolan 5, Cathal McHugh 6; Conor McHugh 5, S Kilbride 9, F Dolan 7. Subs: J Tiernan 5 for Cathal McHugh (20), D Kelleher 5 for Conor McHugh (51), D O'Connor 5 for Tiernan (58).
Ref -- C Reilly (Meath)