Wednesday 21 March 2018

Crossmaglen stars are simply the best




THEY failed to sparkle in last year's final win over Mayo's Ballina Stephenites, but Crossmaglen Rangers reallly turned on the style to beat Na Fianna in yesterday's AIB All-Ireland Club final at Croke Park.

Dublin champions Na Fianna played their part in providing a very combative and entertaining contest for the fans, but the honours rest where they belong, as the Armagh side operated on a higher plateau over the hour, producing a display of football fit to grace any stage.

Indeed, after 10 minutes, Crossmaglen were robbed by misfortune of an additional goal when a fierce shot by Oisin McConville, after a great ball from John McEntee, cannoned off the left upright and into the grateful arms of goalkeeper Stephen Gray.

And by netting their second successive All-Ireland crown, and their third in four years, the south Armagh outfit deservedly joined a very exclusive club.

Only one side, Cork's Nemo Rangers with six titles, have won more than Crossmaglen who now move into joint second place with another Cork side, St Finbarrs, who were the last club to win two All-Ireland titles on the trot, in 1980 and 1981.

In terms of athleticism, pace, teamwork, inventiveness and football vision, it would be difficult to surpass the dazzling display produced by Crossmaglen.

Frequently during the contest, the Armagh side bamboozled their opponents with the rapidity and fluidity of their flowing movements, particularly during the last 11 minutes of the first half when they shot five unanswered points to set up a 0-9 to 0-4 half-time lead.


Probably the sweetest movement of all was put together by Crossmaglen four minutes into the second half when Oisin McConville, Tony McEntee and John McEntee were involved before livewire sub Michael Moley shot over the bar.

The quality of his side's football was predictably recognised by Crossmaglen boss Joe Kernan, who said: ``Even though it's hard to be dispassionate when you're involved with a team, I thought that the football that we played in the first half was really outstanding.

``The quality of the teamwork and the movement off the ball was something that you rarely see.''

But as the final scoreline indicates, it was far from being one-way traffic, and Na Fianna also had their periods of excellence. Indeed, they deserve tremendous credit for storming back from what looked like a hammer blow five minutes into the second half.

Another free-flowing, defence-splitting movement ended with Oisin McConville feeding off full-forward Gavin Cumiskey, and beating goalkeeper Gray with a accurately-directed low shot.

That score put the Armagh side 1-10 to 0-5 in front, but Na Fianna battled back to outscore their opponents by seven points to one in the next 16 minutes.

But the Glasnevin outfit failed to sustain their momentum, and Crossmaglen rallied to score the last three points of the match.

Scoring ace Oisin McConville, who finished with a tally of 1-6, probably accurately summed up the feelings in the Crossmaglen camp, when he said afterwards: ``It's often said that the first title win is always the sweetest, but, to me, this All-Ireland victory is the most satisfying of the three that we've won.

``With all due respect to the Mayo sides, Knockmore and Ballina Stephenites, Na Fianna are the best team we've played in an All-Ireland final. And there's always something special about beating a Dublin side in an All-Ireland final, and particularly at Croke Park.

``Dublin sides generally seem to have a touch of arrogance about them, so we very delighted to stuff it to Na Fianna today.''


Interestingly, McConville, whose brother Jim hobbled off with an ankle injury just before half-time, was wearing a Dublin jersey that of Na Fianna's Tomo Lynch under his Crossmaglen shirt.

``I swapped jerseys with Tommo after last year's National League semi-final, and I always wear two jerseys, even in matches in the height of summer,'' explained McConville.

Na Fianna manager Paul Caffrey epitomised the prevailing mood in his side's dressing-room, when he said: ``You can see from the reaction of the lads that the result is like a death. The lads are really gutted, and that's very understandable.

``But I have no complaints about the performance from your players. They never gave up, but Crossmaglen were the better team on the day, and fully deserved their win. They're a big, strong, physical team, but they also play very good football, are very clean, and there wasn't a bad foul in the match.''

Very effective uniformity was the keynote to Crossmaglen's success, with the players seeming to possess an almost telepathic understanding of the precise location of their teammates.

It would be difficult to single out any members of the defence for special mention, but the likes of John McEntee, at midfield, and Oisin McConville, Cathal Shortt and Tony McEntee up front really caught with their spectacular contributions to the success.

As well, Na Fianna found it very difficult to negate the influence of towering Colm O'Neill, who despite wearing the No 15 jersey, operated as a very effective third midfielder, leaving acres of space for Gavin Cumiskey and Jim McConville, and later Moley, to thrive on in the inner attacking line.

The Dublin champs found the going tough at midfield, where Armagh star Kieran McGeeney and Sean Forde, and in the second half McGeeney and Donal Keegan battled against John McEntee and Anthony Cunningham.

But they had very effective performers in defenders Pat McCarthy, Tommo Lynch and Senan Connell who frequently stormed upfield. And up front, their most impressive players were Mick Galvin, Dessie Farrell and Aaron Shearer who was surprisingly withdrawn three minutes after scoring a fine point.

Galvin accurately summed up Na Fianna's main problem. ``We needed a goal to break them down, but unfortunately we never looked like scoring one. We knew that they played an unorthodox style, but still we struggled to cope with that.

And Farrell said: ``We needed to score more than seven points during our spell of dominance in the second half, as it was obvious that Crossmaglen would come back at us. We were second best on the day it was as simple as that.''

SCORERS Crossmaglen Rangers: O McConville 1-6, 5 frees, 1 `45', J McEntee, C Shortt, M Moley 0-2 each, J Fitzpatrick, T McEntee 0-1 each. Na Fianna: M Galvin 0-5, 2 frees, D Farrell 0-2, S Connell, K Donnelly, D Mackin, A Shearer, I Foley 0-1 each.

CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS P Hearty; M Califf, D Murtagh, G McShane; J Fitzpatrick, F Bellew, J Donaldson; J McEntee, A Cunningham; C Shortt, T McEntee, O McConville; J McConville, G Cumiskey, C O'Neill. Sub: M Moley for J McConville (32 mins).

NA FIANNA S Gray; S McGlinchey, B Quinn, M Foley; S Connell, T Lynch, P McCarthy; S Forde, K McGeeney; M Galvin, D Farrell, K Donnelly; D Mackin, J Sherlock, A Shearer. Subs: D Keegan for Forde (half-time), I Foley for Shearer (38 mins), N Ó Murchu for Foley (45 mins).

REF M Curley (Galway).

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