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Four goals earn Maghery title

16 September 2020

Crossmaglen were going for their third county title in a row on Sunday - and most gave them the edge over long-time rivals Maghery. 

But after a thrilling match, well worthy of a final, it was the Maghery men who took back the Gerry Fegan Cup that they last won in 2016.

From throw-in it was clear that this final would be one to go down as a classic, with fine battling performances all over the field. The O’Neill brothers were superb for Cross, particularly in the first half, and while their 17 points tells a tale in itself - it was goals that were the difference. Goals missed and goals scored. Four goals and a gritty performance - not least from deserving Man of the Match Aidan Forker – earned Maghery the title. 

Crossmaglen don’t go down easily. In fact, the last 23 county finals they were in they won. That just goes to show how huge this victory was for Maghery and what a massive blow it was for Cross. 

Manager Stephen Kernan didn’t hold back either when he analysed the defeat as Cross watched the celebrations from the lonely side of the pitch.

“They took their four goal chances, but we didn’t take our four goal chances,” lamented Kernan, after his players paid their respects and trudged off the field.

“We ran through them on a number of occasions. I think we had five one v ones and the keeper made five saves and they took their chances and we didn’t take them,” he added.

“We had the second goal cut out and just dropped it. The first one came from their half back coming forward, so we weren’t able to stop them, but it is something that shouldn’t have happened. Ultimately it comes down to chances. If we had have taken our chances the score would have been 4-17 to 4-9 and that is what Championship football is all about, they took their chances and deserved to win but we didn’t take ours and we didn’t deserve to win.”

Kernan admitted they had a few players out injured but was quick to say that it was no excuse.

“These things happen and that is not an excuse, we still had 15 players on the field who are well capable of representing Cross in a county final. Injuries happen when you play contact sport and it just gave somebody else an opportunity. We still had enough talent on the field to kick 17 points, so we are going home rueing all the chances we made and still scored 17 points.

“Whenever it is all said and done county finals are always going to be tough, but you need to take your chances and we didn’t.”

It was hell for leather from the start with Aidan Forker opening the scoring in the third minute after Rian O’Neill put a free wide at the other end. The younger O’Neill brother had another free from beyond the ’45 two minutes later and this time he made no mistake as the ball sailed between the sticks. 

Maghery upped the ante considerably after that however, when a super three man moved ended with half-back Brendan Haveron firing into the net to give them a three-point advantage and that was just the start.

The end-to-end battle continued unabated, with Cross replying by forcing two terrific saves. The first effort came from Aidan Rushe in the ninth minute, but Ciaran Higgins made the save with an outstretched boot. Seconds later the ball was back in the Maghery square by Kyle Carragher who found Oisin O’Neill. This time Maghery keeper Caolan Hendron made a point blank save to deny Cross the leveller.

There was plenty of good defending at both ends and little to choose between the teams but Cross made their efforts count on the scoreboard, with the next four from the dynamic O’Neill’s who seemed to be telepathic in setting each other up. Oisin scored three (one free) and Rian scored the other from a free, giving Cross a narrow 0-5 to 1-1 lead midway through the first half.

Stephen Cusack squared the match on 18 minutes with a point from play and a couple of wides, from James Morgan and Callum Cumiskey, preceded another point from Oisin O’Neill, but that was cancelled out by a wonderful point from distance by Cusack, who was set up by the superb Aidan Forker.

The impressive Darra O’Callaghan nudged Cross in front again, 0-7 to 1-3 and they pulled four points clear with scores from Cian McConville (free), Tony Kernan with a beauty from play and another from Oisin O’Neill.

There was a bit of a scuffle off the ball at the other end of the field in stoppage time, resulting in bookings for Aaron Kernan, Rian O’Neill and Brian Fox for Maghery. The dust had barely settled however, when the latter hit the net and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Finnian Moriarty’s men. 

O’Callaghan got the last point of the half for Cross, but their lead had dwindled to two points 0-11 to 2-3 and Maghery had more goals to come.

Their ability to find holes in the Cross defence continued after the restart, with Ronan Lappin through, but he opted to shoot over the bar and sent the ball wide. Three points in quick succession from Aidan and Stefan Forker and Gerard Campbell put Maghery in front again 0-11 to 2-6 and it remained nip and tuck, with Oisin O’Neill and Kyle Carragher pointing either side of a free from Stefan Forker.

His brother Aidan then brilliantly caught a long ball in, turned and stormed goalward, drilling into the net to make it 3-7 to 0-13 with 41 minutes on the clock.

And there was another goal to come from Ronan Lappin on 45 minutes with a long ball in that somehow flew over Cross goalkeeper Paul McEntee’s outstretched arm and dropped into the net. Frees from Tony Kernan and McConville narrowed the deficit to four points with Maghery leading 4-7 to 0-15, but Aidan Forker and Cusack cancelled those points out and time was running out for the south Armagh side.

Rian O’Neill landed another brilliant score as Cross threw the kitchen sink at Maghery. Any frees they won, they lumped into the square and came close to hitting he net a couple of times in goalmouth scrambles. All Cross could manage however was another point from Rian O’Neill and that proved to be the last of the game. 

Aidan Forker was sent off with a second booking in the dying seconds, for a block on the younger O’Neill, who was about to shoot, but it didn’t make a bit of difference or stop him from enjoying the elation when the final whistle signalled Maghery 4-9 to 0-17 winners of the trophy.

“When we play Cross it’s always nip and tuck and there’s always a wee edge to the game and I think there’s a healthy respect there between the two teams,” said the Man of the Match Forker after the game. “We’ve been at each other nip and tuck for the last 10 years. They’ve turned us over and we’ve turned them over and there’s always a bit of bite.

“They scored 17 points today and there’s not too many teams who score 17 points and get beaten. We knew we had to be direct with the ball in and the goals thankfully, fell for us today.”

While Maghery will most certainly enjoy their celebrations, there is no Ulster Championship to look forward to in this extraordinary year but Forker is taking it for what it is.

“There’s no sense of disappointment at the moment but maybe when the dust settles the boys will be saying they maybe would have liked a rattle at Ulster given that I don’t think we gave a good account of ourselves in 2016. I thought we were probably poor then, and our preparation could have been a wee bit better, but listen, we’ll not complain, we’re county champions again and we’ll absolutely take it.”

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