Almost 40 minutes into this, their eighth Ulster final, they appeared to hit the self-destruct button when Tony Kernan was sent to the line for a second yellow card just moments after he picked up his first.
An attempted elbow from Kernan on Leo McLoone was spotted by linesman Martin Sludden, no stranger to controversy himself, and referee Joe McQuillan didn’t hesitate in dispatching the Crossmaglen man.
At that point, Cross had levelled matters after going into the break 1-3 to 0-7 down thanks to a massive Naomh Conaill first-half performance.
But, as they so often proved in the past, Rangers’ apparent undoing was the making of them. Seconds after Kernan’s dismissal, the ball was transferred up the pitch to man of the match Jamie Clarke who hand-passed across to evergreen Oisín McConville to slide the ball under goalkeeper Stephen McGrath.
Dermot Molloy kicked a free for the Glenties five minutes later, their first score in almost 15 minutes, as Crossmaglen pulled down the shutters. Aside from a late brace of points shared by Brendan McDyre and Dara Gallagher, their race was run.
Clarke and McConville formed a magnificent tag team from there to the finish, the former swinging over adelightful effort in the 46th minute followed by two frees from the latter. And although Gallagher’s score two minutes from the end of normal time made it a three-point game, an Aaron Kernan free preceded a marvellous McConville point from the outside of the boot.
In what was an exciting if frayed affair, McQuillan dished out 12 yellow cards as Cross initially struggled to cope with the eager Donegal side.
Back from suspension, Clarke was eager to make up for lost time and certainly looked up for it when posting the game’s first score.
Naomh Conaill responded strongly through Leo McLoone and a Dermot Molloy free before McConville evened up things with a placed ball.
Clarke was denied a goal as well as a penalty in the 12th minute when Tommy Donoghue, who had earlier been booked, appeared to foot-block his close-range shot after Michael McNamee had fed the corner forward.
The last time Clarke came up against Donegal opposition he retired a manager with John Joe Doherty stepping down shortly after the young forward scored 2-2 in Armagh’s qualifier win in his native Crossmaglen last June.
He was ably assisted by five of his Cross team-mates that day while the Glenties had one player — Eoin Waide — who suffered the indignity of that defeat.
Molloy, booted over a free shortly after but Clarke wasn’t in the mood to be foiled.
Three minutes after his first chance, McNamee found him again and there was nothing Donoghue, or McGrath could do about it.
The goal, though, was to be a rare first half highlight for Crossmaglen as Naomh Conaill replied with three unanswered points in a four-minute purple patch, Gallagher, Johnny McLoone and another Molloy free cancelled out Clarke’s goal.
Losing the midfield battle and their back-line buckling under intense pressure, Crossmaglen were looking troubled.
Something had to be done but it was surprising to see McNamee, the playmaker for Clarke, make way for Francie Bellew just three minutes after bagging a point when there were more worthy candidates for the line.
A Gallagher score just before the break gave the Glenties men a deserved lead going into the interval but, led by the venerable Bellew, they performed a masterly second-half shutout, restricting their opponents to a paltry three points.
Cross’ first half lethargy was merely an aberration. Eight Ulster finals, eight victories. Typical Crossmaglen, yes. Typically terrific.
Scorers for Crossmaglen: O McConville (0-3f) 1-4; J Clarke 1-2; M McNamee, T Kernan, A Kernan (1f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Naomh Conaill: D Molloy 0-4 (4f); D Gallagher 0-3 (2f); L McLoone, J McLoone, B McDyre 0-1 each.
Subs for Crossmaglen: F Bellew for McNamee (29); M Aherne for Finnegan, A Cunningham for S Kernan (both 40); B McKeown for Hanratty (50); J McEntee for McKenna (54)
Sent-off: T Kernan (red card, second yellow 39)
Subs for Naomh Conaill: S Corcoran for L Thompson (50); J McKenna for O’Malley (57).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).