Brigid's Cross off 'greatest' scalp of them all
IT'S been so long since Crossmaglen Rangers lost a match of any significance, we'd largely forgotten what it looked like.
In Mullingar on Saturday, it resembled the aftermath of a particularly sad funeral.
Mournful tears, players talking in hushed tones ... Tony McEntee not talking at all ... it's probably safe to say the Armagh overlords of this marathon of a competition hadn't prepared themselves for the emotional ramifications of defeat.
"Even though today seems like the end of an era and all that, we've been here before, it's not the end of anything," said Oisín McConville afterwards, his three-in-a-row dreams in tatters but typically amiable.
"This club will always go on. It doesn't matter what the faces are, what one to 15 is or who's over us. The club will always go on. It's absolutely devastating. The people in the changing rooms are inconsolable."
St Brigid's, meanwhile, were trying desperately to put the genie back in its bottle, as shock gave way to joy, which gave way to pandemonium for their merry band of followers.
How can you avoid celebration after beating, as veteran goalkeeper Shane Curran branded them, "the greatest club side ever"?
"We said to them get off the field," said a breathless Kevin McStay afterwards, St Brigid's manager and the most measured man in Cusack Park on Saturday.
"You can't help it when you take a massive scalp like that. We'll have them down to earth fairly quick. To win this and not perform in the final would be shocking, it wouldn't do justice to the champions we have beaten."
The omens are good. You don't stare down the kings of club football in a tight scrap without bringing something ballsy to the table and that is precisely what St Brigid's did on Saturday and will need to do so again on St Patrick's Day against Ballymun Kickhams.
You don't trail at half-time and endure a period of insignificance and end up winning, as St Brigid's also did, without having a couple of quality arrows in your quiver.
And, just as importantly, you don't pull off the sort of coup the Ros' champions did without a dollop of good fortune.
Then again, good teams make sure to get the crucial scores at crucial junctures and St Brigid's second-half goal through substitute Conor McHugh was absolutely that.
It was, in every regard, against the run of play. Cross' had just begun the asphyxiation process which has claimed so many corpses in the past.
After seeing their half-time lead wiped by a compelling Brigid's beginning to the second, they banged three points over the bar in as many minutes to nose back in front at 1-8 to 1-7 with 53 minutes on the clock and the pattern of the Armagh side's resurgence, took on an all-too-familiar look.
Then, out of nowhere, came St Brigid's big break. And rather than look the gift horse in the mouth, they saddled it up and rode it home to victory.
Frankie Dolan won the break from a penetrating free into the danger area from Senan Kilbride and looked sure to score Brigid's second goal but was fouled with the trigger cocked.
Smartly, Maurice Deegan allowed play to continue and McHugh – on the pitch roughly four minutes – tapped it into the net.
"We needed a break, we got the goal and I think it was a penalty anyway," McStay reflected. "But I'm glad it wasn't a penalty and he let it play."
And then – almost immediately – things went badly awry for Cross'. At the next break in play, Deegan was summoned to an off-the-ball incident not far from the Brigid's goal which, apparently, had resulted in their 'keeper, Curran, lying injured on the turf.
Deegan quickly consulted with his umpires, turned to Kyle Carragher and issued a straight red card and Curran, miraculously, was healed and skipped back into his goalmouth sanctum.
"I was disappointed with the reaction afterwards obviously, when you see somebody running around the field cheering," reflected McConville, who stopped just shy of complaining about Deegan's performance.
From there, a lone Clarke point was all Cross' could muster by way of response. "I said to them before we went out, 'if we can put away these greatest of champions, there is no question about you boys'," said McStay.
"Okay, they might ask about your medals but in terms of character, no. I sensed they had this character anyway but they have shown us they have. It was a super effort, they never stopped.
"We made a lot of mistakes and we turned over a lot of ball that we wouldn't normally do. It's so hard to go beyond them and they are really going to take momentum from this.
"They set the standard on so many different levels – physically, mentally and then ability – so we had to match them in a lot of different places and by and large it think we did," concluded McStay.