Finlay rolls back the years as Ballybay give Crossmaglen a dose of their own medicine
Ballybay 2-11 Crossmaglen Rangers 1-9
Ballybay for drinkin' tay.
That was what Oliver Brady used to say but if the late, great Monaghan horse-trainer was looking down tonight, then he'd have been a very proud man. And he's probably up there with a big smile on his face now, saying something along the lines of Ballybay for Ulster.
Enda McGinley warned us from his position in the RTE commentary box that this Ballybay team are fiends for goals.
He said it very early in the day that they create goal chances like they're going out of fashion and that was exactly how it was on this mild November evening, as the Pearse Brothers did a Crossmaglen on Crossmaglen.
The Monaghan champions ran through their opponents at will, plotting and picking their way towards the goals and for a finish, they almost had time to look around and enjoy it as they knocked the provincial kingpins out of Ulster in a stunning fashion.
They got off to a flying start in Armagh's Athletic grounds when they were awarded a third minute penalty.
They were very lucky to get it, you'd have to say, Alan Farrelly appeared to have done very little wrong, but there was nothing lucky about Shane McGuiness' finish.
Ballybay's brilliant centre forward put it away superbly and that was the perfect opening for a team who were playing against the wind. Crossmaglen did use the wind to their advantage with Rian O'Neill's divine early goal bringing them right back into it.
Jamie Clarke links up with Rian O'Neill for an absolute clinker of a goal.pic.twitter.com/rf5HRY6IHI
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) November 5, 2022
Caolan Finnegan and Jamie Clarke also impressed as they began to take over the game but Ballybay were economical, and even though the wind and the momentum were against them, they never fell too far behind.
Men like Paul 'Jap' Finlay kept them in the game, as did Dessie Ward, the pair of them the most impressive players on the pitch.
Ward's ball-carrying and kick-passing are top class and he linked up brilliantly with the ageless Finlay from start to finish. Men like Shane McGuinness and captain Eoin McKearney were just as impactful for Jerome Johnston and Mark Doran's team, who really capitalised on the black card Dara O'Callaghan was shown just before half-time.
Crossmaglen could have no complaints with referee Noel Mooney's decision - it was clear as day - but it was without a doubt a turning point in this game. Because Ballybay were simply irresistible in that second half as they roared into the game and, really and truly, made the Rangers look average.
Afterwards, as he has done so many times before, Finlay was given the man-of-the-match award on what was the 39-year-old's first ever Ulster club championship game. He missed their last campaign for his honeymoon, he certainly wasn't missing tonight.
At the age of 39, Paul Finlay has finally played an Ulster Club Senior game - he was on his honeymoon in 2012 - and he delivered a Player of the Match performance as they tore through Crossmaglen in the second half. pic.twitter.com/rfs1fMNiW1
— RTÉ GAA (@RTEgaa) November 5, 2022
"We got what we came for," he said.
"We were looking for a performance here this evening and thankfully it was good enough to get the win. We won the county final and it was the first thing I looked forward to, to get out in Ulster."
Speaking on RTE soon after, fellow Monaghan man Jack McCarron paid tribute to the evergreen Farney icon.
"Paul's probably one of the best players that's ever played for Monaghan. I was lucky enough to get the chance to play with him," said the Currin man.
"If I'm moving as well as he is at that age, I'll be very happy," added Jarly Óg Burns.
Ballybay for Ulster says Oliver Brady.