No halting way of the Cross

IRRESPECTIVE of how many Ulster titles they’ve won, few have been as convincing as Crossmaglen’s latest witnessed at the Morgan Athletic Grounds yesterday.

The number in question is nine, but when teams are this hungry for more honours, such figures are inconsequential because there are bound to increase.

The result looked little in doubt for the majority of this game, Burren’s relative success in dividing their deficit in half to three points inside the first five minutes of the second half offering the only hope of a tense finale.

However, those three Burren scores in succession sparked Crossmaglen into life again and they finished the final 25 minutes with 1-3 to their opponents’ two points.

On the evidence of Crossmaglen’s first half, either Dr Crokes or UCC will have their work cut out to reach the St Patrick’s Day final.

Looking stronger in possession and in the tackle, with a frenetic commitment to work in swarms, they dominated proceedings, as evidenced by the half-time scoreline — 1-7 to 0-5 — never mind their wide count of eight at the break.

With Jamie Clarke in marvellous form, Crossmaglen went 0-5 to 0-0 up inside the first 16 minutes.

The Armagh forward scored just one of them but, like against Ballinderry in the semi-final, he was provider extraordinaire, setting up Aaron Cunningham and David McKenna for points and winning a free which Aaron Kernan converted.

That latter point came shortly after Anton McArdle was shown a red card by referee Martin Higgins for an incident involving Tony Kernan. McArdle consulted with this year’s All-Ireland SFC final referee Joe McQuillan before taking the decision that left Burren playing catch-up around the middle for the rest of the game.

Donal O’Hare, who scored all but three of Burren’s total, registered his only point from play to get his side up and running in the 17th minute. A second followed from Conal McGovern seconds later but it turned out to be the last score from play for 39 minutes.

Leading Ger McCartan on a merry dance at the other end, Clarke showed strength to win a 50-50 ball in the 21st minute before delivering a delightful squared pass into the path of Oisin McConville. The veteran wizard did the best, finishing high to the net to put Crossmaglen six ahead.

Cunningham, after a fine Aaron Kernan run, and Clarke, showing impressive strength to fend off McCartan, then swapped scores with O’Hare frees.

O’Hare was then afforded another easy free opportunity which he duly took although it looked to be a harsh call on the Crossmaglen defence.

Crossmaglen still went into the break with a convincing lead — 1-7 to 0-5 — and McConville attempted to maintain their tone seconds into the new half, winning and converting a free.

A booming Kevin McKernan point either side of two O’Hare frees — after Sean Murdock was fouled and then Stephen Finnegan was adjudged to have picked the ball up from the ground — raised the Burren cheers in the handsome 8,624 crowd.

But their voices weren’t heard for long when McConville slotted over another free after goalkeeper Cathal Murdock handled the ball on the ground after making a great save from Stephen Kernan.

What followed was Crossmaglen doing what they do best — finishing out the game.

A Tony Kernan 45 in the 46th minute put five between the teams and older brother Stephen thumped over a free eight minutes later to make it six.

A James McGovern point in the 55th minute had all the makings of a consolation one and the die was well and truly cast when Kyle Carragher got an ankle to the ball to find the net from close range with three minutes left.

Just seconds after having a shot saved by Murdock, a kick by corner-back Paul McKeown found its way to Carragher for the ugliest of goals.

It mightn’t have been a fitting way to cap off a most stylish win for Crossmaglen but that wouldn’t have bothered them.

They’re already looking towards a new horizon. As McConville explained: “We’ll not take that much of a break — a few weeks and then we’ll be back at it before Christmas.

“We’ll have to get ready for whoever’s coming out of Munster and it’s no good winning this if we don’t go on then and win the All-Ireland.

“That will be very much in our heads. We won three titles last year and that’s two of them retained so we’ll have to get the third one.”

Take this game as a warning.

Scorers for Crossmaglen: O McConville 1-2 (2f); K Carragher 1-0; J Clarke, A Cunningham, A Kernan (2f) 0-2 each; D McKenna, T Kernan (45), S Kernan (f) 0-1 each.

Subs for Crossmaglen: F Hanratty for McNamee (inj 12); K Carragher for McConville (44); M Aherne for F Hanratty (48); K Brennan for Cunningham (61).

Scorers for Burren: D O’Hare 0-7 (6f); Conal McGovern, K McKernan, Cathal McGovern 0-1 each

Subs for Burren: E Toner for Poland (30); C Byrne for S Murdock (50); G Sands for Higgins (56).

Red card: A McArdle (15, straight).

Referee: M Higgins (Fermanagh).

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