CRITICAL scoring gains on either side of half-time contributed hugely to Crossmaglen Rangers’ victory in Newry yesterday, bringing their cumulative victories in county, provincial and All-Ireland finals to 22 since Joe Kernan led them to their 1996 Armagh title success.
However, it took a huge effort from a side which was not just inspired by the impressive 1-5 return from man-of-the-match Oisín McConville but sustained by an obvious confidence in their ability to win.
In what Ulster Vice-Chairman Aogán Farrell described afterwards as one of “the most passionate and skilful games” of recent years, Crossmaglen performed at a higher level than in either of their preceding games, when they defeated the respective Monaghan and Tyrone champions Clontibret and Dromore by a single point in each case.
McConville reserved his best form for the game which really mattered, the goal he scored giving them a psychological advantage heading into the last quarter — and having a vital bearing on the eventual outcome.
St Gall’s put up a highly-creditable display in their first final in three years and put up a very strong challenge for 20 minutes. Three times up to then the scores had been level, but they were the ones forcing the pace, with county player Kevin McGourty (named at full-forward but operating from one end of the field to the other) exerting a very strong influence. They were tigerish in defence, stronger at midfield and their speedy movement of the ball enabled them to mount attacks on a frequent basis.
However, while their direct play earned them a valuable goal — and the lead for the second time — in the 22nd minute through Aodhan Gallagher, their return from later raids fell below what their effort entitled them to, as they lacked real finishing power.
Crossmaglen improved, helped by much improved play in defence and the success of Tony McEntee in limiting the threat from McGourty — and by better use of the ball in attack.
After Aaron Kernan kicked over a difficult free in the 25th minute, Oisín McConville missed a free which he afterwards admitted he should have scored. But true to character, he put over an even more difficult free in the 30th minute, and heading to injury time he gave the team a massive lift with a superb equalising point from play. It left the half-time score at Crossmaglen 0-6, St Gall’s 1-3.
Not surprisingly, Crossmaglen resumed with more confidence, even though they wasted two chances in less than two minutes. But three minutes later came McConville’s goal, the turning point in the game.
St Gall’s were not threatening as much mainly because it was a struggle for scores. That had more to do with the stranglehold exerted by the Crossmaglen backs and the fact that they were competing more at midfield, largely due to McKenna.
Additionally, their forwards were more menacing, with John McEntee playing an important role, Michael McNamee a Trojan worker outside him and McConville sparkling. Having followed his goal with another score from play from far out on the left, he showed his class once more with a marvellous free in the 47th minute.
This came after Conor McGourty put over a St Gall’s free (their first score in 26 minutes) and for a short while after McGourty scored from play and brother Kevin lifted the team with another, there was a chance of a recovery, with the margin down to two points.
While that was a tribute to their resilience, Crossmaglen were still in control, and, once Tony Kernan kicked over a great score from the left corner (before being forced off with a broken collar bone), there was going to be only one winner.
*Jimmy White’s refereeing was consistent and well up to standard.
Scorers for Crossmaglen: O. McConville 1-5 (0-3 frees); A. Kernan 0-2 (0-1 free); M. McNamee and T. Kernan 0-1 each.
Scorers for St Gall’s: A. Gallagher 1-0; K. McGourty 0-2; C. McGourty 0-2 frees; K. Stewart and T. O’Neill 0-1 each.
CROSSMAGLEN: P. Hearty; S. Finnegan, P. Kernan; P. McKeown; A. Kernan, T. McEntee, B. McKeown; D. McKenna, S. Clarke; M. NcNamee, J. McEntee (c), M. Aherne; T. Kernan, J. Hanratty, O. McConville. Subs: J. Murtagh for Hanratty (47th); S. Kernan for Aherne (51st); K. Carragher for T. Kernan (injured).
ST GALL’S: R. Gallagher; C. Brady, A.McClean, S. Kennedy; P. Veronica, S. Kelly, A. Healy; M. McCrory, S. Burke; T. O’Neill (c), K. Niblock, A. Gallagher; K. Stewart, Kevin McGourty, Kieran McGourty. Subs: C. McGourty for Stewart; S. Burns for Kelly (43rd).
Referee: J. White (Donegal).
+Aogan Farrell presented the trophy in the absence of chairman Tom Daly who was in Rome for the installation of Cardinal Sean Brady.