Crossmaglen 1-09 Ballybay 2-11

Underdogs Ballybay Pearse Brothers showed superior nous to take care of Crossmaglen Rangers in a barnstorming Ulster Club Championship opener at the Athletic Grounds.

Despite the wealth of history and, indeed, titles behind the Armagh and Ulster aristocrats, it was the Monaghan men that showed superior nerve and the greater game management on the night as they won out 2-11 to 1-09.

The win sets up the mouthwatering clash with All-Ireland champions Kilcoo next weekend. The greater fascination will be the background as Ballybay joint-manager Jerome Johnston [Mark Doran is also in charge] will now have to decide whether to face his three sons, Ryan, namesake Jerome and Shealan in the quarter-final or not.

That will be decided during the week, but on the night, Ballybay swung the game in a momentous third-quarter showing.

With Dara O'Callaghan black carded for Crossmaglen on the stroke of half time, Ballybay fully used that numerical advantage to outscore the Armagh champions 1-05 to 0-01 in that match-winning period.

A dejected Aaron Kernan after the game

Substitute Aaron Toner came in at half time to punch home Ballybay’s second goal and braces from Shane McGuinness and Dessie Ward were sublime. That was a lead Johnston’s side would show no signs of losing as they impressively booked a quarter-final spot.

Right from the start Ballybay showed their composure. They lost Drew Wylie in the second minute to a black card but still forged a goal from the penalty spot from Shane McGuinness.

With his man-marker Wylie sidelined, Rian O'Neill responded with a moment of magic. The Armagh star lashed the ball past Julius Sniauksta with such venom, the Ballybay net-minder rooted to the spot.

Crossmaglen had their best spell shortly afterwards but Paul Finlay showed all his class to keep Ballybay in touch and make it a one-point game, 1-05 to 1-04 at half time.

Then came the early second half blitz and when O’Callaghan did return, Finlay and Christopher McGuinness further added to the margin.

Those scores stretched the Monaghan champions lead out to eight points. Crossmaglen, despite rattling off three late scores, could not sustain enough pressure to reel the dogged Pearse Brothers in at the finish.

Crossmaglen: Conor Deery; Tony O'Callaghan, Thomas Duffy, Alan Farrelly; Aaron Kernan, James Morgan, Paul Hughes;Stephen Morris, Rian O’Neill (1-01); Dara O’Callaghan, Callum Cumiskey, Caolan Finnegan (0-02); Cian McConville (0-03 0-02f), Jamie Clarke (0-01). Ronan Fitzpatrick (0-02).

Subs: Chris Crowley for Farrelly (37), Daniel Cumiskey for D O'Callaghan (48), Orin McKeown for Hughes (52).

Ballybay: Julius Sniauksta; Tiernan McSkean, Micheal Hannon, Ryan Wylie; Eoin McKearney, Shane Monaghan, Colm Lennon; Drew Wylie (0-01), Dessie Ward (0-02); Ciaran Galligan, Shane McGuinness (1-02, 1-00pen), Daniel Caraher; Paul Finlay (0-04, 0-03fs), Christopher McGuinness (0-01), Thomas Kerr (0-01).

Subs: Aaron Toner (1-00) for Galligan (ht), Thomas Keenan for Caraher (55), Conor McArdle for S McGuinness (62), Brent Wylie for Monaghan 63 Shane McQuillan for C McGuinness (63).

Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan Gaels).