Kernans rally to see Cross' home
Crossmaglen 0-17, Ballinderry 1-10
ULSTER CLUB SFC semi-final
GIVEN the turbulent history between these two teams, it was always likely that a red card could swing this semi-final and so it proved at Casement Park yesterday.
'Third time lucky' was the Derry champions' catch-cry as they came desperately hoping to knock out the Armagh kingpins, who had defeated them in two Ulster finals.
But when Ballinderry's full-forward Martin Harney was sent off on a second yellow card just before half-time -- a decision that resulted in referee Martin Sludden being heckled and booed at the end of the game -- they found themselves seven points and a man down, with a veritable Everest to climb.
"They may cancel Paddy's Day already," remarked one wag in the press-box, as it looked like defending and five-time All-Ireland champions Crossmaglen, who played a sublime brand of football before the break, were about to cruise into their sixth Ulster final in eight years.
Yet Derry's 2002 All-Ireland champions refused to bend, defying their numerical disadvantage and totally dominating midfield then to throw everything at the champions, who needed all their experience and guile to pull this one out of the bag.
With the departure of some legends in the past year, Crossmaglen 2011 is a new-look model and yesterday's display was certainly far from vintage but their opponents, particularly their full-back line and midfield, could take a lot of credit for that.
Yet, the Kernan brothers particularly did enough to get them through and, tellingly, veteran Oisin McConville, a late addition to the starters in place of Francis Hanratty, scored the first and last points to bookend their victory.
Cross', remarkably, have never lost any of their eight previous Ulster final appearances, but yesterday's patchy performance was far from perfect, and manager Tony McEntee admitted as much afterwards.
"The positives were that we got a good half-hour's football in the first half, the negatives were that we stopped playing," he said.
"Despite having an extra man, we couldn't win primary possession around midfield, but there's a group of players there that used their experience to grind it out there at the end."
Crossmaglen's first pass out of defence in the first half was invariably brilliant, but they still played a bit in fits and starts.
They rocketed out of the traps with four points in as many minutes, three of them from play, but then went scoreless for 11 minutes as Aaron Devlin and Conleith Gilligan asked serious questions of their defence, creating a great goal chance for Raymond Wilkinson after 13 minutes which Paul Hearty had to save.
Cross' also already had a good goal chance saved by then, when Michael Conlon did well to stop Stephen Kernan and, after letting the gap come back to a point, they pressed the accelerator again to score six unanswered points in nine minutes.
But just when they looked like they were going to run away with it, Ballinderry got inside to threaten again and Devlin brilliantly chipped Hearty only to be denied a goal by the woodwork.
Jamie Clarke got his only score of the game just before half-time to see Cross' go in 0-11 to 0-4 and a man up. But those close shaves were a portent of things to come.
On the restart, Ballinderry came out and scored three unanswered points in seven minutes to put them completely on the back foot, with Enda Muldoon and Kevin M McGuckin rampant in midfield.
And they got right back into it after 50 minutes when Aaron Kernan took down Michael McIver and the game's top-scorer Gilligan (1-5) nailed the ensuing penalty.
With five minutes to go there was still just a point between the sides after Kernan and excellent Ballinderry substitute Colin Devlin traded scores and goalkeeper Michael Conlon was sharp again then to deny Clarke a good goal chance.
Then Cross' captain Stephen Kernan burst through for an inspirational score and his brother Tony and McConville tagged on late scores to keep them safe, even though they lost Aaron Kernan to a late second yellow themselves in a game that saw Sludden issue 10 yellow cards (five each).
Scorers -- Crossmaglen: A Kernan 0-6 (5f), S Kernan, O McConville (1f) 0-3 each, M McNamee, T Kernan (1 '45) 0-2 each, J Clarke 0-1. Ballinderry: C Gilligan 1-5 (pen, 4f), R Wilkinson 0-3, R Bell, C Devlin 0-1 each.
Crossmaglen -- P Hearty; J Morgan, B McKeown, P McKeown; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, D McKenna; T Kernan, S Kernan (capt), A Cunningham; J Clarke, O McConville, M McNamee. Subs: K Brennan for McNamee (41), F Hanratty for Finnegan (44), K Carragher for J Hanratty (48).
Ballinderry -- M Conlon; D Bell, K McGuickin (capt), C Wilkinson; R Scott, C Nevin, M McIver; D Conway, E Muldoon; R Wilkinson, Kevin M McGuckin, A Devlin, C Gilligan, M Harney, R Bell. Subs: C Devlin for Nevin (41), D McGuckin for Bell (58).
REF -- M Sludden (Tyrone).