Thursday 22 March 2018

McConville rolls back years for clinical Cross

OISIN McConville reeled in the years as he hammered home the vital first goal to set Crossmaglen Rangers on the path to the club's ninth senior provincial club title at the Morgan Athletic Grounds yesterday.

McConville, a youthful 36, admitted afterwards that the head still knows what to do on a football pitch, perhaps even better than ever.

His only problem is whether the body can cash the cheques that the mind keeps writing.

"Sometimes it feels like I'm finishing training a day and a half behind the young fellas in this club," he quipped, but there was no doubting McConville's predatory instincts when his powerful shot hit the Burren net after 20 minutes. As a physical and psychological blow to the Down champions, it was a defining moment in a hard-fought match watched by an attendance of 8,624.

Just five minutes previously they had suffered a game-

changing setback when midfielder Anton McArdle was sent off on a straight red card by Fermanagh referee Martin Higgins.

And soon afterwards McConville scored the goal that put the Burren boys 1-5 to 0-2 in arrears.

"Game over," was the verdict in the stands. Well, it wasn't quite like that, and nor was it as easy as the eventual scoreline might suggest, but any hopes of an upset to the reigning Ulster and All-Ireland title holders were seriously diminished from that stage on.

McArdle was dismissed a minute or two after play had carried on with Crossmaglen's Tony Kernan on the ground. Very few people saw it happen, but it appeared that McArdle struck out at the Rangers man.

Burren manager Frank Dawson struggled to control his emotions afterwards about the incident.

"What can I say? You prepare all year. You come to the biggest day in Ulster football. Before it you prepare for all eventualities but the manner of what happened today, I just find it hard to explain. I still don't know what it was all about," said Dawson.

"But I'm proud of the effort my boys put in. They didn't give up and they tried to do everything they could to win the game. They never gave up until the final whistle."

At the time of the dismissal, Crossmaglen had made a blistering start, with Jamie Clarke at the hub of the main damage being inflicted on Burren. Clarke's will-o'-the-wisp display brought him two early points and he had a role in setting up points for Aaron Cunningham, and David McKenna just prior to McArdle's red card.

Straight after that incident, eventual man of the match Clarke was hauled down for a free, giving Aaron Kernan the chance to make it 0-5 to no score after 16 minutes.

Burren managed to get two points on the board, one by corner-forward Donal O'Hare and the other from Conal McGovern, but in the 20th minute came McConville's goal.

A well-directed pass by Stephen Kernan found Clarke in space and he duly served up the opening for McConville to score from 16 metres out. The 14 Burren men battled to go in at half-time 1-7 to 0-5 down, thanks to O'Hare adding three points from frees in the last seven minutes of the first half. McConville opened the second-half scoring with a point from a free in the 31st minute, but Burren bravely came back to cut the deficit to just three points -- 1-8 to 0-8 -- by the 35th minute.

Burren's Kevin McKernan, Ciaran McGovern, Alan Higgins, Conal McGovern, O'Hare and Shay McArdle were to the fore in the gallant resistance, but Crossmaglen have been on the road too long to let a chance like this one slip past them.

Their extra man advantage helped stifle some serious attacking runs by Burren players, while they managed to nick a couple of points ahead as the exchanges became tough and fiercely contested.

Points by McConville from a free and Aaron Kernan edged them ahead by 1-10 to 0-8, and Crossmaglen's 11th point of the game, scored by Stephen Kernan from a free six minutes from the end, looked to have made the match safe.

It could have been easier for the champions, as McConville admitted, especially as spectators could be forgiven for thinking Cross just do enough to get through these games.

"That's not the plan. The plan is to kick on and win these games more comfortably, but we'll take any win today. We knew it was going to be a stiff challenge," said McConville.

"Obviously them going down to 14 men in the first half didn't help them. It helped us big time, as we could drop an extra man back."

The clinching score that ended all doubt came in a scrappy manner -- but they all count. Corner-back Paul McKeown popped up down the wing, and fired in a hopeful ball towards the Burren goalmouth.

As Cross forwards and Burren defenders converged towards the dropping ball, its trajectory eluded the backs and the Burren goalkeeper Cathal Murdock. A tip on by Aaron Cunningham was followed by a last touch by sub Kyle Carragher, which resulted in the goal.

A defiant closing score of the game by Burren's O'Hare was too little too late to help the Down team's cause.

Scorers -- Crossmaglen Rangers: O McConville 1-2 (0-2f), K Carragher 1-0, J Clarke, A Cunningham 0-2 each, A Kernan 0-2 (0-2f); T Kernan (0-1f), S Kernan (0-1f), D McKenna 0-1 each.

Burren: D O'Hare 0-7 (0-6f), C McGovern 0-2, K McKernan 0-1.

Crossmaglen Rangers -- P Hearty; J Morgan, P Kernan, P McKeown; A Kernan, D O'Callaghan, S Finnegan; J Hanratty, D McKenna; T Kernan, S Kernan, A Cunningham; J Clarke, O McConville, M McNamee. Subs: F Hanratty for McNamee (12), K Carragher for McConville (44), M Aherne for F Hanratty (48), K Brennan for Cunningham (60).

Burren -- C Murdock; R McGovern, D McCartan, G McCartan; K McKernan, C McGovern, D McEntee; A Higgins, A McCardle; C McGovern, S Murdock, P Poland; D O'Hare, J McGovern, S McArdle. Subs: E Toner for Poland (29), C Byrne for S Murdock (49), G Sands for Higgins (58).

Ref -- M Higgins (Fermanagh).

Irish Independent

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