“Intense” is how Jamie Clarke forecasts today’s All-Ireland club football final replay.
Even at that, he’s putting it mildly. The war of words between members of the Crossmaglen and Garrycastle teams at the end of last Saturday week’s first game in Croke Park suggests there is no love lost.
Indeed, after a game in which referee Rory Hickey could have dismissed two more than the couple he did, there’s every reason to believe Kingspan Breffni Park will be a cauldron this evening. Clarke himself was involved in that verbal exchange where it appeared something was said to him as he attempted to shake hands with a Garrycastle opponent.
“That’s just football,” he shrugged. “It’s more about sportsmanship than anything else. When the game’s over, you shake the other man’s hand, no matter what the result.
“We’ll see the next day what happens. I don’t really get caught up in that myself. There are things I need to improve on from Croke Park, the chances I didn’t take.”
Clarke didn’t see the incident involving Garrycastle’s Paul Dillon and Crossmaglen defender Brendan McKeown but after watching it on video, was surprised Dillon remained on the field. Of course, Crossmaglen’s Aaron Cunningham can count himself lucky as well after a dangerous push on Doron Harte.
“I didn’t see the incident at the start of the game [Dillon-McKeown] but looking back on the video, the Garrycastle player should have gone.
“There were blatant fouls against us but Garrycastle got them that wee bit easier. You can only control the controllables, that’s what we’re told. We can’t control the referee and we just got on with it.
“We didn’t go crying to the referee. If we had, he could have given them everything under the sun and it would have made matters worse. We’re not too concerned about the referee. Get caught up in that and we’ll lose focus.”
Garrycastle, in their first All-Ireland final appearance, certainly didn’t shy away from Crossmaglen. The consensus afterwards was the Westmeath men got in the faces of the reigning champions.
“They’re in an All-Ireland final too. It was more that we got off to a bad start. Maybe we were a bit complacent and buying into the hype a bit.
“The results have shown us that we’re not an invincible team, we’re a normal team. Getting away with the draw really leaves us wanting it now. There’s real hunger this week.”
Anger too. Crossmaglen’s grievances with Hickey’s officiating was nothing compared to what they felt about themselves.
“We felt we let people down not getting the win, not just ourselves but for everyone in the club.
“We didn’t see ourselves as finishing strong. The fact that we were four points down at one stage is what sticks with us.
“It put us more under pressure. We knew we had to get back into the game and we did. We could have won the game and I myself had a couple of chances to do it. But we didn’t settle down when we had those chances to win the game at the end. We kept rushing it and everyone was going for a score.
“We should have played the percentages like we usually do and be patient but we didn’t do either.”
They will have that opportunity, with captain Stephen Kernan back, having served his four-week ban.
“Stephen is a brilliant player — he set up most of my scores anyway. It’s a big lift for us and he’ll instil more confidence into the team. There’s nothing affecting us this week. No suspensions or anything like that.”
The message from joint managers Tony McEntee and Gareth O’Neill to the players is to be prepared. Crossmaglen have an excellent track record in replays but that’s the type of hype they can’t read much into.
However, the management have spoken to the panel about their ability to routinely get the best out of themselves.
“We’ve been talking about us being a club and usually performing to our best, no matter what the result is.
“We’ve to perform and do ourselves justice more than anything. We didn’t do that the last day. We’ve been talking about getting ready for the game in good time and being in the right frame of mind.
“For example, we were told to have our boots polished early on in the week and not leave it until Friday night. It’s little things like that which all add up in the end.”
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