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Crossmaglen close to fourth All-Ireland title

Crossmaglen 1-11 St Brigid’s 0-11
IT’S seven years since Crossmaglen won the last of their three All-Ireland titles, but they lie just 60 minutes from a fourth after a hugely entertaining victory over the Roscommon champions at Cusack Park yesterday.

Although they led from the first minute to the last whistle, the south Armagh club never once broke free of their pursuers whose tenacity ensured the result of this game was in the mixer right until the last kick.

Crossmaglen manager Donal Murtagh said afterwards St Brigid’s were the best team they had faced all year but that would have been little consolation to the Connacht champions, many of whom left the field in tears.

The difference in pedigree of the two teams could hardly have been more contrasting coming into this semi-final. While Cross, with their three All-Irelands and five Ulster titles since 1996, have been the most successful club in the last decade, Brigid’s were coming off the back of their first provincial title.

That gulf in experience told, especially towards the end when the Roscommon side threw midfielder Karol Mannion in to the edge of the opponent’s square and pelted Francie Bellew and Co. with long ball after long ball.

Predictably, that was merely food and drink for the rugged full-back and Armagh goalkeeper Paul Hearty and Brigid’s might rue their desperation when the pain of defeat begins to thaw.

No strangers to a game of this importance — this was their fifth All-Ireland semi-final since 1996 — Crossmaglen started the game in fifth gear and were 1-2 to a point ahead inside the opening 10 minutes.

The goal was an intricately woven affair with wing-forward Martin Aherne feeding the ball to Oisin McConville inside the Brigid’s square. A goal seemed to be a foregone conclusion and it was, but it wasn’t the Armagh marksman who scored it.

Instead, McConville dummied once before turning it on to Michael McNamee who did the honours by finding the net.

The Roscommon side needed to find their sea legs with some haste and they did just that. With their entire half-forward line putting in a double shift behind their own midfield line, the Connacht side began to dominate possession.

Three points in the next seven minutes squeezed the gap down to a more manageable one point as Cross struggled to cope with their opponent’s short passing game. It could have been even better for the underdogs had their shooting sights not been askew on six occasions.

They would add five more after the restart.

As it was, they were depending on dead balls to keep apace with Cross who were making more profit from pots on goal from open play. Their full-forward line was the difference, managing 1-8 of their side’s final tally.

Though quiet for long spells, McConville still managed to arch over two beauties from tight angles either side of the interval, the second of which left Cross 1-6 to 0-7 to the good.

Frankie Dolan’s afternoon tells an interesting tale. Though he ended the day with seven points, five of them came courtesy of free kicks and his first from play took almost 50 minutes to arrive. The real problem was that Dolan was the only Brigid’s man to score at all after the break.

Compare that with Cross, whose full-forward John Hanratty and substitute John Murtagh took much of the weight off McConville’s shoulders by landing a pair of points apiece.

At one point the Roscommon side launched four probing raids up the field only for two of their shots to float wide and the other two to drop short into the keeper’s arms.

Each failure was like a blow to the guts and though manager Anthony Cunningham virtually emptied his bench towards the end, they couldn’t find the key to unlock the Crossmaglen net.

Roscommon’s search for its first All-Ireland club champions continues for another year at least. Crossmaglen, meanwhile, are simply back where they feel they belong.

CROSSMAGLEN: P Hearty; T McEntee, F Bellew, S McNamee; A Kernan, J Donaldson, B McKeown; D McKenna (0-1), S Clarke; M Ahrne, J McEntee, S Kernan; M McNamee (1-1), J Hanratty (0-2), O McConville (0-5, 3f). Subs: S Finnegan for McKeown 30, C Short for M McNamee 37, P McKeown for S McNamee 37, J Murtagh (0-2) for S Kernan 37.

ST BRIGID’S: J Martin; E Ruane, P Kilcommins, R Kelly; N Grehan, G Aherne, Donal O’Connor; M O’Carroll, K Mannion (0-1); J Tiernan (0-1), F Dolan (0-7, 5f), B O’Brien; S Kilbride, David O’Connor (0-1f), D Blaine (0-1). Subs: P Domican for Aherne 37, I Kilbride for O’Brien 52, E Mannion for Kilcommins 55, D Kelleher for Blaine 58.

Referee: E Murtagh (Longford).