Armagh SFC Final
Maghery Sean MacDermott’s 4-9 Crossmaglen Rangers 0-17
By John Harrington at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh
It was always going to take something special to defeat Crossmaglen Rangers in an Armagh County Final, and Maghery Sean MacDermott’s produced it in the Athletic Grounds today.
To put their thrilling victory into context, it’s worth quickly revisiting Crossmaglen’s record in major Finals.
Since last losing a County Final in 1982, Crossmaglen had played in 23 more and won all of them.
This was their 40th major final since 1996 between county, provincial and All-Ireland and before today they had lost just one of them – the 2009 All-Ireland Final to Kilmacud Crokes.
So this was quite an upset Maghery pulled off, and they did it in style.
Goals win games is one of the oldest adages in the GAA for good reason, and Maghery definitely came into this game with goals on their mind.
Their counter-attacking game-plan ripped Crossmaglen apart time and again, and when opportunities came their way Maghery were absolutely ruthless.
To a man they were superb, but special mention must go to full-forward Aidan Forker who led their attack superbly and scored 1-3 from play.
The possession winning ability that he and Ronan Lappin provided in the inside forward line gave Maghery the luxury of being able to exploit the space between the Crossmaglen half-back line and full-back line by kicking the ball long knowing there was a good chance it would stick.
They came with much more than that one dimensional game-plan though, because they also produced some really slick short-passing moves, most notably the one that led to their first goal.
Crossmaglen started the game with a brisk breeze at their backs but it was Maghery who took flight in the early minutes.
Forker muscled his way through the Crossmaglen defence before flighting a left-footed effort over with three minutes on the clock.
Crossmaglen began to up the ante, forcing three frees for over-carrying by harried Maghery defenders, the third of which Rian O’Neill pointed.
The favourites were rocked back on their heels though when Maghery broke out of their half to score the first goal of the match.
A brilliant six-man flowing move was finished with aplomb when Brendan Haveron smashed the ball to the net after being put through by John Mackle.
Crossmaglen responded by trying to go for the jugular themselves, but Maghery goalkeeper Caolan Hendron pulled off two fine saves in as many minutes from James Morgan and Oisin O’Neill.
As the half progressed, the two O’Neill brothers Rian and Oisin began to really grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
Between the two of them they landed four points in quick succession to give Crossmaglen the lead for the first time and what looked like serious momentum.
The excellent Stephen Cusack briefly drew Maghery level with a fine point on the run, but Crossmaglen’s dominance continued, and by the 30th minute had moved 0-10 to 1-3 ahead as the O’Neill’s, Dara O’Callaghan, and Tony Kernan started to really click into gear.
But not for the first or last time in the game, Maghery scored a goal at a critical juncture when Brian Fox hit their second.
It looked like he was about to be smothered by the Crossmaglen cover defence, but he did brilliantly to dribble the ball on the ground before firing it to the net soccer-style.
Crossmaglen still led at the break by 0-11 to 2-3, but Maghery now had the wind at their backs and quickly started making the most of it.
That man Forker got them on their way with the first score of the half and then his brother Stefan started to warm to the task too when his first of the day drew the teams level.
It was tit for tat for a ten minute period as the teams exchanged points, but then came the critical phase of the game when Maghery scored two goals in the space of three minutes.
Ben Creally, who made a big impact as a sub for Maghery, found Forker with a beautifully flighted long-distance pass.
Forker could have claimed the mark but instead he showed great ambition to turn and charge for goal before firing a scud of a shot to the bottom right hand corner of the net.
If Crossmaglen were dazed by that blow they were really seeing stars when Maghery struck for their fourth goal of the match.
Stefan Forker’s diagonal ball into the danger-area was a thing of beauty, and Lappin gave it the finish it deserved when he rose high to punch it to the net.
To the almost disbelief of the vocal Maghery supporters their team now led by six points – 4-7 to 0-13 – and the decibels went up another few levels.
There were still 15 minutes left to play, but Crossmaglen could never quite generate the momentum necessary to pull this game out of the fire.
They battled to the finish, but Maghery defended tenaciously and hit them on the counter for a couple of crucial points by Forker and Cusack.
Maghery lost Man of the Match Forker (two yellows) and substitute Steven Fox to red cards in the final few hectic minutes of additional time, not that they really minded.
The final whistle blew shortly after Forker departed the field to a standing ovation, and Maghery were champions for the first time since 2016 and only the second time in their history.
It will mean all the more to them that they have defeated the most successful Armagh club of all in the Final.
A final word on the 400 supporters who attended the match.
They behaved impeccably in terms of maintaining a social distance and created a fantastic atmosphere considering their relatively small numbers.
Kudos to Armagh GAA for organising the day so well.
Scorers for Maghery Sean MacDermott’s: Aidan Forker 1-3, Ronan Lappin 1-0, Brian Fox 1-0, Brendan Haveron 1-0, Stephen Cusack 0-3, Stefan Forker 0-2 (1f), Gerard Campbell 0-1.
Scorers for Crossmaglen Rangers: Oisin O’Neill 0-6 (1 Mark), Rian O’Neill 0-3 (2f), Cian McConville 0-2 (2f), Tony Kernan 0-2 (1f), Dara O’Callaghan 0-2, Callum Cumiskey 0-1, Kyle Carragher 0-1
MAGHERY SEAN MACDERMOTT’S: Caolan Hendron; Eoin Scullion, Gerard Campbell, Stephen Cusack; Brendan Haveron, Ciaran Higgins, Oisin Lappin, James Lavery, John Mackle; Stefan Forker, David Lavery, Oisin Cushnahan; Brian Fox, Aidan Forker, Ronan Lappin. Subs: Ben Crealy for John Mackle (ht), Kevin Robinson for Oisin Cushnahan (39), Paul Forker for Brian Fox (55), Steven Fox for Ronan Lappin (60)
CROSSMAGLEN RANGERS: Paul McEntee; Christopher Crowley, James Morgan, Paul Hughes; Callum Cumiskey, Aaron Kernan, Adrian Rushe; Tony O’Callaghan, Rian O’Neill; Tony Kernan, Cian McConville, Oisin O’Neill; Dara O’Callaghan, Kyle Carragher, Mel Boyce. Subs: Garvan Carragher for Aidan Rushe (21), Patsy Finnegan for Kyle Carragher (45), Seanie McConville for Mel Boyce (49)
Referee: Kevin Faloon.