Cross' make no mistakes second time around

Gerry Buckley

SOME Garrycastle fans who postponed drowning the shamrock for a fortnight may well have woken up yesterday morning and hoped that the 15-point hammering being talked about around Athlone was just a cruel April Fools' joke.

However, red-hot favourites in general (and Crossmaglen Rangers, in particular) seldom act the fool in replays and the superb Armagh men were full value for their comprehensive win in a disappointing All-Ireland club final replay at Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday evening.

The now six-time champions won hands down second time around. In fact, they 'won' the first head-to-head of the day when they jostled the Westmeath players off the bench provided for pre-match photographs.

An attempt by one Garrycastle player to take out Aaron Kernan as the teams separated after the parade backfired too, as Kernan took his place (after receiving medical attention) to give a typically wholehearted defensive display, combined with a series of scything runs through the often-porous Garrycastle defence.

The most potent of these came in the 18th minute when he set up Francis Hanratty for his side's second goal, to put the Ulster champions 2-3 to 0-3 ahead and place one hand on the Andy Merrigan Cup. Hanratty had already raised a green flag in the fifth minute, availing of fine play by Jamie Clarke.

As usual, Dessie Dolan was the fulcrum of the Westmeath representatives' attack, having scored all three points for his side at this juncture.

However, he was not to score again and Crossmaglen joint manager Tony McEntee acknowledged after the game that keeping Westmeath's marquee player quiet was a major part of his game plan.

"James Morgan had difficulty the last day, but he totally swamped Dessie there today and that's what we are about -- we are about learning and progressing and not giving teams a second chance," McEntee said.

Ironically, Garrycastle may have thought they had got a second chance when Gary Dolan took a sublime pass from older brother Dessie to rifle home a goal four minutes into the second half, significantly reducing the 2-8 to 0-4 half-time deficit.

A great left-footed free from Leinster final hero, substitute Conor Cosgrove, soon had the gap at six points.

But Cross' simply upped the tempo and a succession of terrific points meant that the later stages merely gave McEntee and Gareth O'Neill an opportunity to take off some high-profile players and have them accorded standing ovations, with six-time medallist, 36-year-old Oisín McConville exiting in the 58th minute to particular adulation.

The losing manager, Anthony Cunningham, who can now concentrate exclusively on his Galway senior hurling commitments, had "no complaints" in the aftermath of a bitterly disappointing end to a glittering three years in charge of the Westmeath standard-bearers: "As always, these lads gave us everything, but Crossmaglen were that bit special today and that's the way sport goes."

Meanwhile, an exuberant Tony McEntee was already planning an assault on equalling Nemo Rangers' seven titles, emphasising the youthful composition of his side, McConville and goalkeeper Paul Hearty apart.

Armagh and the rest of Ireland beware!