Errigal Ciaran bowed out of the Ulster Club championship with their heads held high after a five point defeat at the hands of reigning All Ireland champions Crossmaglen, writes Seamus Donnelly.
Crossmaglen’s ability to score goals at crucial times was the difference between the teams with Jamie Clarke’s first half effort, just as Errigal were threatening to pull away, and David McKenna’s second half strike killing off any threat of an Errigal comeback as the game entered it’s closing minutes.
The Tyrone champions had a very positive opening 20 minutes and raced into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead before Clarke’s goal and a quick point turned that lead into a deficit.
Errigal responded to lead at the break but Cross turned up the heat in the second half and were always of the charge of the game from then on.
It was a bitterly cold day in St Tiernach’s Park but the game soon warmed up the 5,689 spectators inside the ground as no quarter was asked or given from the rival sides.
Cross began in electric fashion with a flowing team move leaving Jamie Clarke with a great goal chance. Clarke’s shot however rattled back off the bar much to the relief of the Errigal support.
Crossmaglen took the lead a couple of minutes later with Stephen Kernan picking out Paul McKeown who was then fouled. The ever reliable Oisin McConnville tapped over the free.
The Dunmoyle men responded immediately with two points from brothers Darren and Thomas Canavan giving them the lead after eight minutes.
Darren converted a 35 metre free from the left wing, while Thomas pointed a 40 metre free from in front of the posts.
Errigal were competing brilliantly with Rangers especially in the middle third of the field, while Peter Harte was causing Cross problems building from the back.
Harte linked up with Thomas Canavan a couple of minutes later to allow Canavan to fire over from distance.
Crossmaglen though aren’t multiple time Ulster and All Ireland champions for nothing and they responded immediately through cornerback Paul Hughes.
Ciaran McGinley hit straight back for Errigal with a well taken point after a run up the left wing.
Ronan McGuckin’s side were more than holding their own, with Stefan Tierney providing an extra man in defence, helping to limit the attacking threat of Cross.
What couldn’t be accounted for though was poor decision making by the Errigal players. John Devine uncharacteristically lax with a clearance allowed Cross to narrow the gap again.
Errigal extended their lead with the Canavan’s again on target, Thomas with a free and Darren with an excellently taken point after some good work around the middle from Cormac McGinley.
The Dunmoyle side were defending well at this stage and leading 0-6 to
0-3 when a long Stephen Kernan ball found Jamie Clarke. Clarke found some room with a little swivel of the hips and hammered the ball into the roof of the Errigal net.
A couple of minutes later, Clarke, who for the most part was well contained by Aidan McCrory, pointed again from play to put his side into the lead.
Errigal needed to respond and they did with Ronan McRory on target first and then Darren Canavan latched on to a Brian Horisk knock down to give his side the lead.
Cross could easily have tied the game up in the couple of minutes that remained to the half but some woeful shooting saw Errigal go in a point to the good at the break.
The second half though was to be Crossmaglen’s as midfield duo of Johnny Hanratty and David McKenna began to gain control and Stephen Kernan started pulling the strings of Ranger’s attacks from centre half forward.
Oisin McConville proved he’s still accurate from placed balls with a free to tie the game up before wing back Aaron Kernan slotted over a straight forward free to give his side a lead they would not relinquish.
Errigal were struggling to get up the field but without Daisy McDermott or Caolan Tierney their bench options were slim. Stefan Tierney put in an excellent performance for his side but couldn’t stem the Cross flow as Oisin McConville fired over an excellent effort from the left wing to extend his side’s lead.
A sloppy pass out of the Errigal defence again resulted in a Crossmaglen point as Oisin McConville slotted a free between the uprights leaving three between the teams with 10 minutes to go.
Ronan McRory got Errigal’s first point of the half 22 minutes into it before the sucker punch.
As the Ballygawley side tried to reduce the gap pushing forward, Crossmaglen found space in behind the defence with Hanratty and McKenna steaming forward from midfield the latter was on hand to fire into the roof of the net.
It was effectively game over as Cross tried to kill some time and play the game out. Peter Harte did get forward to kick an excellent point but it was too little, too late as the reigning Ulster champions advanced to meet Kilcoo in the final.