Cross complete double.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

CROSSMAGLEN Ladies finally lost for the first time this year on Saturday but not before completing an unblemished domestic double by adding the Armagh Division Two title to their recent Intermediate Championship success.

Table toppers Cross, who had won every regular league game in a 19-match campaign stretching back to the start of April, recorded a comprehensive 6-14 to 3-9 victory over Mullabrack in last Sunday evening's second division decider at St Oliver Plunkett Park.

Star skipper Lauren McConville typically led the way with 2-4, Jamie Clarke's 15-year-old sister Alex had three frees in her 1-5, while former county panellist Mairead Watters, highly-rated Armagh Minor Megan O'Callaghan and Natasha Hamill each weighed in with 1-1.

Armagh's Aveen Donaldson commanded a reshuffled defence for a team missing three of their rearguard from the Orchard Intermediate decider defeat of Sarsfields but strode forward to kick two points from play as the game opened up.

More silverware was welcome and the league final might have been a useful hit-out for the team ahead of Crossmaglen's return to provincial championship action six days later for the first time in over a decade.

But the victory came at a cost for Cross as goalkeeper Marie Luckie broke her arm in the warm-up and was sorely missed in Saturday's Ulster Intermediate quarter-final against Fermanagh senior champions Newtownbutler.

Weak kickouts crucified Cross in the first half against a strong Newtownbutler team with the two nightmarish goals given away in the space of 30 seconds leading up to the interval making an already tough task almost mission impossible.

Although Mairead Watters pulled a goal back right on the whistle, Newtownbutler went in 13 points to the good and added another couple of scores within three minutes of the resumption before Cross rallied with their best spell of the match.

Inspirational skipper McConville pointed after a superb surging run and then quickly lashed a free to the net before Clarke rounded off a good team move with another point.

A miracle comeback still seemed unlikely but all the momentum was with Cross at this stage.

Unfortunately for Cross, the prolonged promising periods they had in this match weren't productive enough and, feeling forced to go for goals from midway through the second half, they didn't actually register another score.

Having weathered a quite intense storm, Newtownbutler posted four points in five minutes before rounding off by raising their only green flag of the half late on to finish up 5-13 to 2-5 winners.

The harsh scoreline didn't do Crossmaglen justice but the emphatic margin of defeat shouldn't detract from the impressive progress this very young side has made throughout an outstanding season.

Already in bonus territory having claimed the Armagh second tier title against the odds by defeating first division Dromintee and Sarsfields, a combination of factors conspired against Crossmaglen's hopes of upsetting Newtownbutler on Saturday.

Up against a more experienced, physically mature team who were streetwise when they needed to be, Cross will only learn from this hour of football and would back themselves to get much closer if facing Newtownbutler again with a full-strength side.

As well as losing Luckie, Cross were missing full back Michelle Cannon, who has gone travelling, and promising centre half back Aislinn McMahon wasn't fit to start so unsurprisingly it took time for the hosts to grow into the game .Newtownbutler built a five-point lead and added an opportunistic goal before Cross registered their first score courtesy of McConville, who was frequently fouled without the referee playing advantage or escalating sanctions against the culprits.

Crossmaglen's struggles on their own kickouts kept them pinned deep in their own territory in that opening period against a Newtownbutler team who had hammered Antrim representatives Aldergrove by 21 points in the preliminary round and will be hard to beat in this competition.

For their part Cross can look forward to a bright future under the top-class management ticket of former Armagh ladies forward Maria O'Donnell and Peter McMahon, whose daughter Aislinn along with Clarke and Faye Fitzpatrick are already making a big impression at the age of 15.

This ambitious team has shown a positive tendency to learn and grow with each challenge and, well led by the diminutive but immense McConville, will relish stepping up to Division One and Senior Championship football in 2018 as they seek to keep progressing.


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