Clann Eireann won their first Armagh Intermediate Championship title since 2002 when they out-battled a tenacious Whitecross side at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday.
The Lurgan outfit had five points to spare in the end, and although they were deserving winners, considering the Lake Street side had more options up front which was galvanised by superior team work, Kieran Robinson’s men were forced to weather a second half storm which included two well struck efforts which both cannoned off the crossbar.
With the decider only minutes old, Clann Eireann’s best player on the day set himself a standard which he was to maintain throughout the 60 minutes. Chris McCafferty ghosted through the winners defence with just five minutes gone to hit the games opening goal following great support play from Ryan Henderson and Conor Bell. The score was to give the Lurgan side a lead which they never lost, and McCafferty’s man of the match performance was fitting on a day when his athleticism and ball carrying skills were the highlights of a dogged affair in which nervous tension played a leading role.
As expected the Clann Eireann bench proved to be a lot stronger than their opponents, Johnny Tarode, Jack Wilson, Danny France, and Odhran Downey all played their part after being introduced, but it was Daniel McKavanagh’ late composure when shooting two crucial points which would have been most rewarding to the Clanns management.
Although the winners were forced to implement a lot of lateral passes in the opening period against a highly manned Whitecross defence, as the game progressed the Clanns found more space which illustrated their superior fitness particular in the fourth quarter.
The Clanns management changed their tactic from their semi-final win over Madden, they placed the highly effective Shay Heffron at centre half and paid a huge compliment to Brendy McCarron at full back, with the non implementation of a recognised sweeper, McCarron flanked by his effective wing backs Barry McCambridge and David McKernan had an outstanding game.
Clann Eireann’s midfield consisting off veteran Mark Beattie and John Magee had a torrid afternoon against the power full pairing of Barry Shields and Dermott Boyle, Armagh player Mark Shields was the losers best player on the day but the close quarter tackling coupled with the clever positioning of his marker Shay Heffron stifled the centre forwards scoring threat. One of the games highlights was the performance of Clanns keeper Cieran McKerr who was cool under pressure. His kick outs which were long and intelligent relieved huge pressure from the winners defence.
In an opening half in which James McDade and Declan Leatham’s work ethic was paramount, the Clanns secured a three point lead.
Bolstered by McCafferty’s early goal, a converted penalty and three frees from Barry Seeley were replied to by points by Cathal McSherry, Barry McKeown and Ciaran O’Hanlon which put three between the sides at the break.
Kieran Robinson’s side, despite being rocked when Whitecross struck for an equalising goal on 31 minutes from Conor Malone, rallied to outscore their opponents 0-10 to 1-02 in the remaining 25 minutes, the Whitecross second goal arrived from the penalty spot.
Six points from Paul McKenna, two from Daniel McKavanagh, a Seeley effort and a great strike from Henderson assisted by skipper Conor Bell gave the winners a deserved five point cushion at the end of a hard fought contest.