OISIN McCONVILLE produced another highlight for his career scrapbook at Croke Park on Saturday in the AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final.
With the game deep into injury time and Crossmaglen down by a point, coach Donal Murtagh needed his most experienced player to show leadership. And his captain didn’t disappoint.
Crokes captain James Fleming was dispossessed by Aaron Kernan as he broke out of defence, before the ball was swept in to the skipper.
The Crossmaglen followers held their breath as McConville looked to have taken at least half a dozen steps before kicking the equalising point and setting up a replay on April 1.
It was a barely believable climax as Pat O’Shea’s men, often exposed by Crossmaglen’s incisive attacking, fought back from being two points down to lead by three with 10 minutes remaining.
Dr Crokes showed commendable resilience, with the ebullient Colm Cooper at the focal point of every attacking move, even though he failed to score from play.
Their passing was more accurate, their movement sharper and it seemed that the Killarney club were heading for only their second All-Ireland until McConville stepped in to spoil the party.
Crokes couldn’t have asked for a better start. Points by Cooper (free) and Brian Looney gave them an early lead but they enjoyed a huge slice of luck in the seventh minute when Eoin Brosnan dropped a long-range free by John McEntee on his goal line but ‘keeper Kieran Cremin managed to deflect Martin Ahearne’s snap shot out for a fruitless 45.
It took Crossmaglen 15 minutes to open their account when Michael McNamee, who posed a lot of problems for his marker at right corner-forward, kicked a point.
The Munster champions opted to play with just two players in the full forward line, which left Francie Bellew to clear time and again.
McNamee and McConville thrived on the plentiful supply of ball that came their way and after Aaron Kernan tied the game, the Armagh champions led for the first time when the impressive McNamee landed his second point in the 25th minute.
While Cooper operated too far out from the Crossmaglen goal to pose any threat, his superb passing was hugely effective and after the sides had exchanged points, the Gooch picked out Ambrose O’Donovan with a superb cross-field pass for a splendid point.
He created another scoring chance for Shane Doolan but Crossmaglen ‘keeper Paul Hearty denied him a goal with an excellent save.
Half time saw the northerners in front 0-4 to 0-3 and the game improved dramatically on the change -over, helped by a goal for each side inside a minute.
Crossmaglen struck first in the 35th minute when Martin Ahearne blocked Batt Moriarty as he broke out of the Crokes defence.
The ball was quickly played into McConville, who rounded the goalkeeper before slotting to the empty net.
A huge roar went up from the Crossmaglen supporters but it had hardly died down when Crokes had a goal and again Cooper played a major role in its creation. His superb pass put Doolan through and he made no mistake from five metres.
If Cooper was the principle architect for Crokes, so too was David McKenna at midfield for Crossmaglen.
The 19-year-old soloed 50 metres to kick a great point as Crokes began to feel the loss of Eoin Brosnan, who sustained a first-half ankle injury.
With Cooper orchestrating everything for his side, Crokes finally drew level before they hit a glorious purple patch which yielded three points in a row.
Gooch had a hand in two. He pointed a free himself, Kieran O’Leary landing another from a long-range effort before Cooper put David Moloney in for the third to open a 1-9 to 1-6 gap with 10 minutes to go.
The remaining minutes were hectic as Cross whittled down the lead to the minimum with points by John McNamee and McConville, but Crokes were defending superbly and the victory looked to be theirs as the game went to three minutes of injury time.
Unfortunately for them, Aaron Kernan dispossessed James Fleming who had been back helping his beleaguered defence and the ball was passed inside to McConville, who appeared to take at least half a dozen steps before kicking the equalising score to set up the replay in a fortnight’s time.
Scorers: Dr Crokes: S Doolan 1-1; C Cooper (frees), B Looney 0-2 each; A O’Donovan, J Fleming, D Moloney, K O’Leary 0-1 each. Crossmaglen: O McConville 1-2 (0-1 free); M McNamee, A Kernan (frees), D McKenna 0-2 each; J McNamee 0-1.
DR CROKES: K Cremin; K McMahon, L Quinn, M Moloney; B Moriarty, B McMahon, E., Kavanagh; A O’Donovan, E Brosnan; B Looney, S Doolan, J Fleming; C Cooper, D Moloney, K O’Leary.
Subs: A O’Connell for McMahon; K Brosnan for E Brosnan; V Cooper for Doolan.
CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; F Bellew, T McEntee, S McNamee; A Kernon, J Donaldson, B McKeown; D McKenna, S Clarke; M Ahearne, J McEntee, J Murtagh; M McNamee, J Hanratty, O McConville.
Subs: S Kernan for Ahearne; P Kernan for Clarke; C Short for Hanratty; T Kernan for M McNamee.
Referee: S Doyle (Wexford).