Wednesday 21 February 2018

We'll be back, vows Kernan as Cross suffer first Ulster loss since 2005

KILCOO 3-10 CROSSMAGLEN 1-8

Orla Bannon Ulster Club SFC q/final replay

"WE couldn't give any more," was Joe Kernan's honest summation after Crossmaglen's hopes of a fourth Ulster club title in a row were ended by Kilcoo after extra-time.

"WE couldn't give any more," was Joe Kernan's honest summation after Crossmaglen's hopes of a fourth Ulster club title in a row were ended by Kilcoo after extra-time.

It took 160 minutes to separate them, and two goals in the first half of extra-time from Ryan Johnston and Paul Devlin were the killer scores as the Down men edged this quarter-final replay in the Athletic Grounds.

Kilcoo probably should have won last week's drawn match in Newry, and they blew another great opportunity to win this game in normal time when they led by 1-7 to 0-3 with 20 minutes to go.

Despite losing seven players from last year's side, including David McKenna who tore his calf in the drawn game, depleted Crossmaglen are nothing if not fighters.

They somehow clawed their way back with an unanswered 1-4, with Kilcoo down to 14 men after a straight red card for Daryl Branagan in the 42nd minute, to level the game at 1-7 apiece.

Kyle Carragher briefly gave Cross the lead 19 seconds into extra-time – the first and only time they led the match.

However, Kilcoo responded with crucial goals, Johnston's in the third minute, and a screamer from Devlin five minutes later. Conor Laverty had a hand in both goals.

There was no coming back from that for Cross, who suffered their first defeat in Ulster since 2005.

It all unravelled for them, with a straight red card for Stephen Kernan in extra-time followed by a second yellow for Paul McKeown as they ended the game with 13 men.

"The two goals were a killer blow and we had emptied the tank," admitted the Crossmaglen boss. "We carried injured men into the match and the boys couldn't give any more.

"We didn't help ourselves. Our use of the ball was very poor but we drew level and that's when we should have finished them off. We had a few chances right at the end of normal time.

"We hurt when we lose, and the only thing I can guarantee is that Cross will be back here this time next year."

The anticipation of a high-quality, combative contest for the second week running was undoubtedly what helped attract a bumper attendance of 9,670 – a record for an Ulster club championship match.

Kilcoo lost Jerome Johnston and Anthony Devlin to injuries picked up last week, but they started this replay with the same intensity and hunger as they showed in Newry. They made all the running for the first 40 minutes, wing-backs Darragh O'Hanlon and Gerard McEvoy constantly finding space and Laverty's pace troubling Paul McKeown.

Kilcoo were two points up after six minutes and Crossmaglen, whose use of the ball coming out of defence was terrible, didn't score until a Tony Kernan free after 12 minutes.

Carragher and Kyle Brennan struggled to make an impact against their markers, Niall and Aidan Branagan, while Kilcoo's O'Hanlon and Johnston were impressive ball carriers.

Scores from play were at a premium, and Cross failed to score from play at all in the first-half as Kilcoo led 0-5 to 0-2 at half-time. Paul Devlin slotted home a penalty, after Stephen Kernan fouled Laverty, in the 38th minute.

However, Branagan's straight red card for a high challenge on Stephen Kernan almost cost Kilcoo dearly.

They were seven points up when he went off and didn't score again as Cross put in a Trojan effort to draw level.

Tony Kernan's move into full-forward sparked the fightback and his goal in the 52nd minute helped Cross level it up at 1-7 apiece.

"We lost our way in the second half and got embroiled with them and they got a lucky goal at the end of normal time," said Kilcoo boss Jim McCorry afterwards.

"But we played a wee bit of football in extra-time. There were a lot of turning points in the game, but the bottom line is that we've only won one game and we have a short recovery time to get our wounded players ready for Ballinderry next Sunday."

SCORERS – Kilcoo: P Devlin 2-2 (1-0 pen), R Johnston 1-1, D O'Hanlon 0-4 (3fs), Gerard McEvoy, N McEvoy, J McClean 0-1 each. Crossmaglen: T Kernan 1-3 (3fs), C Cumiskey 0-2, M Aherne, K Carragher, A Cunningham 0-1 each.

KILCOO – S Kane; N Branagan, N McEvoy, D Branagan; D O'Hanlon, S O'Hanlon, Gerard McEvoy; P Greenan, A Branagan; P Devlin, J McClean, R Johnston; N Morgan, C Laverty, Gary McEvoy. Subs: S Devlin for Gary McEvoy (54), J Johnston for Morgan (54), F McGreevy for J Johnston (79).

CROSSMAGLEN – P Hearty; P Hughes, P McKeown, S Finnegan; M Aherne, G Carragher, D O'Callaghan; J Hanratty, T Kernan; M McNamee, S Kernan, C Cumiskey; K Brennan, K Carragher, C O'Neill. Subs: P Og Grant for McNamee (35), M Boyce for O'Neill (35), A Cunningham for K Brennan (47), K McShane for Hanratty (79).

REF – J McQuillan (Cavan)

Irish Independent

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