CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS maintained their proud record of never losing an All-Ireland Club final with victory over of Dr Crokes in the replay of this year’s decider at O’Moore Park yesterday.
While there was no disputing the better team won, this game will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. In a bruising contest which saw the referee issue 10 yellow cards and two red, the Longford official didn’t endear himself to the Crokes followers by his failure to send off Rangers centre forward John McEntee after issuing him with a second yellow card.
It was a cardinal error by a very experienced match official and shows once again the total lack of communication between the referee and his officials. If Murtagh failed to recall giving McEntee a yellow card in the 11th minute of the game, that’s fair enough, given he issued nine more afterwards. But surely he should have been made aware of his error by one of his linesmen.
It’s doubtful, however, that Crokes would have won the game had McEntee been dismissed. A couple of minutes after he had received his second yellow card, Crossmaglen were reduced to 14 players when John Donaldson was ordered off, but the Munster champions’ numerical advantage only lasted five minutes before they had Ambrose O’Donovan sent to the line.
Just as in the drawn game, Rangers were quickly out of the blocks and using the direct route, raced into a three-point lead inside the opening four minutes. The Ulster champions looked far sharper, particularly in attack, where Oisin McConville and John Murtagh were impressive, but surprisingly they failed to maintain their early dominance and Crokes finally settled, Colm Cooper opening their account with a point after seven minutes.
It sparked off a great period for the Munster champions. John McEntee was issued with the first of his two yellow cards before Kieran O’Leary landed a superb point and as the Rangers defence struggled to cope with the pace of the Crokes attack, they were level at the end of the opening quarter.
Colm Cooper came in for some disgraceful treatment on his way out to take a 30-metre free near the touch line free which went unpunished by the referee, but he showed marvellous composure to glide the ball over the bar to tie the match for the first time.
Cooper was clearly a marked man, but he escaped the clutches of his marker in the 20th minute to field David Moloney’s long delivery. However, with only the goalkeeper to beat, his shot grazed the crossbar before going over.
It was a huge let-off for Crossmaglen and never a side to look a gift horse in the mouth, they responded superbly. Man of the match Aaron Kernan led their fight with a point — their first score for 15 minutes. Sloppy play in defence let his brother Stephen in for another, and as Crokes began to struggle Oisin McConville added two more to leave his side 0-7 to 0-5 in front at the break.
Aaron Kernan showed his class with his second point six minutes after the resumption but Crokes hit back strongly and after Cooper kept Ambrose O’Donovan’s kick from going wide, he made his way along the end line before crossing for David Moloney to first-time it to the net for a goal that tied proceedings for the third time at 1-5 to 0-8. As the tackles continued to go in hard and the yellow cards flashed, Crokes carved open the Rangers defence with a great move in the 37th minute, but Shane Doolan was flattened in the process. However, Cooper’s penalty was saved by Paul Hearty. Crokes were completely rattled by the miss and weren’t to score again.
Left off the hook a second time, Crossmaglen took complete control and despite losing John Donaldson, proceeded to run Crokes ragged, kicking over five points without reply to deservedly take the Andy Merrigan Cup for the fourth time in their history.
Scorers for Crossmaglen: O. McConville 0-6 (0-4 frees); A. Kernan 0-3 (0-2 frees); S. Kernan 0-2; J. Murtagh, M. Aherne, 0-1 each.
Dr Crokes: D. Moloney 1-0; C. Cooper 0-3 (0-2 frees); K. O’Leary 0-2.
CROSSMAGLEN: P. Hearty; B. McKeown, F. Bellew, S. McNamee; A. Kernan, T. McEntee, J. Donaldson; F. McKenna, S. Clarke; M. Aherne, J. McEntee, J. Murtagh; M. McNamee, J. Hanratty, O. McConville.
Subs: S Kernan for M McNamee (inj, 7 mins), S Clarke for J McEntee (49), C Short for Aherne (53), S Finnegan for S McNamee (57).
DR. CROKES: K. Cremin; K. McMahon, L. Quinn, M. Moloney; B. Moriarty, B. McMahon, E. Kavanagh; A. O’Donovan, E. Brosnan; B. Looney, S. Doolin, J. Fleming; C. Cooper, D. Moloney, K. O’Leary.
Subs: J Cahillane for McMahon (28), K Brosnan for Doolin, B McMahon for Looney (54).
Referee: E. Murtagh (Longford).