Naomh Conaill dream ends
The dream of winning an Ulster club title for Naomh Conaill came to an end in Kingspan Breffni Park on Sunday when the wily Armagh kingpins Crossmaglen Rangers proved too strong in the second half.
However, the Donegal champions can hold their heads high. They represented the county well and put it up to Crossmaglen for three quarters of the game. They led by a point at half-time and that lead could have been greater but they also gave away too bad goals, one in either half, which were their downfall in the end.
The experience of the Armagh side, who were winning their eighth Ulster title, proved the difference with Naomh Conaill going a little gung-ho for attack at times which was influential in the concession of both goals.
Crossmaglen, despite losing Tony Kernan to a second yellow card eight minutes into the second half, took a grip of the game when Oisin McConville fired home their second goal a minute later.
After that the Armagh champions squeezed the life out of Naomh Conaill, who fired too many high and hopeful balls into the Cross square and first half substitute Francie Bellew dealt with anything thrown in that direction.
I'm sure that if the Glenties boys could play the game again tomorrow, they would be much wiser. When on top they probably needed to have hit more scores, but their strategy of all-out attack at times backfired on them.
Despite a very nervous opening and Jamie Clarke pointing for Cross on four minutes, points from Leo McLoone and a Dermot Molloy free had Naomh Conaill ahead by the eighth minute. Oisin McConville levelled from a free after hesitation in the Naomh Conaill defence and Thomas Donoghue did really well to stop a Jamie Clarke goal effort at close range before Johnny McLoone found Brick Molloy, who won and pointed a free to put the Donegal side ahead again on 13 minutes.
But two minutes later Crossmaglen had the opening goal. It came after a sustained Naomh Conaill attack which saw Paul Hearty lucky to see a Dara Gallagher first time effort come back off his body and as Naomh Conaill re-built the attack, a Dermot Molloy pass went astray and Cross broke for Jamie Clarke to round his man and fire past Stephen McGrath.
The Naomh Conaill response to the goal coincided with their best period of the match with Dara Gallagher pointing after great work by Johnny Bonner and then a Martin Regan tackle released Brendan McDyre and Leon Thompson before Johnny McLoone tied up the scores at 0-5 to 1-2.
It got better when Dermot Molloy pushed Naomh Conaill ahead again with seven minutes left in the half. Cross were level when Naomh Conaill switched off and a quick free saw Michael McNamee point, but on the stroke of half-time an Anthony Thompson run brought a free from which Dara Gallagher left it 0-7 to 1-3 to the Donegal side at the break.
Francie Bellew had replaced McNamee just before the break and started the second half at full-forward and within two minutes he set up Tony Kernan to level matters.
Six minutes later Kernan was on the sideline after being reported for an incident with Leo McLoone, but Naomh Conaill were rocked immediately as Anthony Thompson failed to collect a sideline on the Cross 20m line and the Armagh broke quickly for Francis Hanratty to find Jamie Clarke and he quickly found Oisin McConville to drive home the second goal.
Naomh Conaill's first point of the half came on 44 minutes when a high ball from Leo McLoone broke and referee Joe McQuillan adjudged that Dermot Molloy had been held back. It seemed to be inside the 13m line but only a free was awarded and Molloy tapped it over.
But Crossmaglen began to stop the Naomh Conaill running game and Oisin McConville with two frees (one with the outside of his right) pushed Cross five clear with seven minutes left.
John O'Malley set up Brendan McDyre to pull back a point in the 56th minute and Dara Gallagher converted a free to leave just a goal in it with two left.
But that was as good as it got as Aaron Kernan pointed a free and Oisin McConville hit a great point from fully 45m to close out the game.
Overall, the best team were victors on the day but Naomh Conaill certainly gave their all. Anthony Thompson led by example, bringing the fight to the Armagh champions, but it was a pity that Naomh Conaill didn't provide cover for the centre-back when he went on his marauding runs.
Tommy Donoghue, Eoin Waide, Johnny Bonner, Dara Gallagher, John O'Malley and Dermot Molloy also played a huge part for Naomh Conaill with Leo McLoone finding it difficult to make an impact after having a good opening quarter.
Naomh Conaill: Stephen McGrath; Tommy Donoghue, Johnny Bonner, Ciaran Boyle; Marty Boyle, Anthony Thompson, Eoin Waide; Martin Regan, Johnny McLoone (0-1); Brendan McDyre (0-1), Leo McLoone (0-1), Dara Gallagher (0-3,2f); John O'Malley, Dermot Molloy (0-4,4f), Leon Thompson. Subs., Seamus Corcoran for L Thompson 49; John McKenna for O'Malley 57.
Crossmaglen: Paul Hearty; Paul McKeown, Paul Kernan, James Morgan; Aaron Kernan (0-1,f), Danny O'Callaghan, Stephen Finnegan; Johnny Hanratty, David McKenna; Jamie Clarke (1-2), Stephen Kernan, Francis Hanratty; Tony Kernan (0-1,f), Michael McNamee (0-1), Oisin McConville (1-4,3f). Subs., Francie Bellew for McNamee 29; Martin Aherne for Finnegan; Aaron Cunningham for S Kernan, both 40; Kyle Carragher for F Hanratty 49; John McEntee for McKenna 54.
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan)
Man of the match
The award goes to Anthony Thompson, who was head and shoulders above all on the field in the first half. Oisin McConville and Jamie Clarke were excellent for the winners also, but Thompson, despite being too adventurous at times, gets the nod.
The second Crossmaglen goal really turned the game. It came just as Tony Kernan got his marching orders and with Naomh Conaill taking a sideline on the Cross 13m line. The Armgh side broke quickly and McConville made no mistake with the finish.
Cavan official Joe McQuillan was harsh on Naomh Conaill in the opening quarter with the free county at one stage 10-3 against them, but in the second half he seemed a little harsh on Crossmaglen at times, but overall kept a tight grip on the game.