Mayo champs miss chance to make final
WHAT a day.
The AIB Club Championships seldom fail to disappoint when it comes to thrills and spills, agony and ecstacy. History has shown that they are often the best place to find the most eloquent examples of that famous thin line between winning and losing.
After all, there is nothing quite like the pride of the parish to bring out the best (or worst) in the GAA community.
Last Sunday at a freezing, rainlashed and windswept Pearse Park we witnessed one of the most compelling, incredible and unbelievable conclusions to a club championship game that you could imagine.
In the greater scheme of things, the fact that Charlestown lost this war of attrition that masqueraded as an All-Ireland Intermediate club championship semi-final by a kick of the ball after extra-time is only half the story.
Of course, this week it is the only fact that matters; that Fr Rocks from Tyrone edged the Mayo and Connacht champions out and so denied them a once-in-a-lifetime shot at the All-Ireland club title in Croke Park next month.
In the days and weeks ahead the Charlestown players, in particular, will be wondering if there was anything more they could have done to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Because when the margins are so fine, there are always going to be ifs, buts and maybes during the post-mortems.
And this group of players were really so near, and yet so far.
However, it is the minor details of just how the battle-hardened, streetwise lads from Cookstown edged Charlestown out in the dying moments last Sunday that will be remembered for years to come in the East Mayo town.
Owen Mulligan and the well-drilled Fr Rocks outfit were clinging to a one-point lead in injury-time when Charlestown’s Anthony Mulligan managed to win a free on the left wing, and Denis Kearney decided to pitch Colm Maye into the fray to try and send the game to a replay.
With the ball having being moved closer to goal after dissent by a number of Fr Rocks players, it looked like a straightforward kick, even allowing for the heavy pitch, pressure of the situation, heavy pitch, swirling wind and all that went with it.
However, the young replacement’s 13m effort from the ground struck the outstretched hand of a Cookstown player, who looked much closer to the ball than he should have been, and the chance was gone.
The final whistle sounded seconds later to signal victory for Fr Rocks and it was no surprise to see a number of Charlestown players approach referee, Gary McCormack, to protest that the free should have been retaken.
However, their representations were all in vain as the Tyrone side celebrated reaching their second Intermediate decider in four years.
Among the Charlestown ranks, reality was sinking in.
They will be bitterly disappointed with the way the game ended but they will also know that their failure to score at all in extra-time, and the fact that they only managed two points in the second half of normal time, was never going to be good enough to fulfill a date with destiny on Jones Road.
In truth, Charlestown played their best football in the first half and they led by 1-5 to 0-3 at half-time after playing with the aid of the wind, rain, hail, sleet and a little snow.
Full-forward Anthony Mulligan (whose contribution was hampered by a hamstring injury and a double-teaming marking job by Fr Rocks) scrambled in the goal on 12 minutes after a probing delivery from Aidan Higgins.
Mark Caffrey, Richie Haran and a splendid 45m kick from Colm Maye also raised white flags.
Cookstown’s Shea McGarrity responded with two fine points, and their excellent number six Martin Murray caused a few problems, but by and large Charlestown were full value for the interval lead.
However, the second half was a different story and a rejuvenated Fr Rocks drew level in the 51st minute when Murray’s ambitious shot from long range flew all the way into the roof of David Sloyan’s net.
The game could have gone either way in the final, frantic ten minutes as Richie Haran (free) and big Conor Mullan traded scores to force extra-time. The scoreboard read 1-7 apiece.
Charlestown’s resources were severely stretched from there to the end, especially with Aidan and Dermot Higgins both being forced to retire.
Cookstown battened down the hatches and held the Mayo side scoreless during the entire 20 minutes while James McGahan’s point, swung over just 23 seconds after extra-time started, turned out to be the winner.
Charlestown battled and grafted throughout with Darragh McMeel, Tom Parsons and the Higgins brothers doing more than most to try and shape the game to their will.
But, in the end, came up just short.
They should take some solace from the fact that there is no shame in that. And they can hold their heads high as they reflect on what might have been.
D Sloyan; G McLoughlin, D McMeel, S Lenehan; A Higgins, G O’Donnell, D Higgins; T Parsons, E Casey; R Haran (0-4, 3fs), M Caffrey (0-1), P Ward; J Owens, A Mulligan (1-0), C Maye (0-2, 1f, ’45).
Subs used: D Tiernan for Ward; S Morris for Owens; O Conway for Maye; K Deignan for A Higgins; B Parsons for D Higgins; J Owens for Conway; C Maye for T Parsons.
M Rea; P McGurk, S Monaghan, D Hughes; R Pickering, M Murray (1-1, 1f), M Hughes; C Mullan (0-2), C O’Hare; S McGarrity (0-2), B Hughes, B Mulligan; J Gilmore, O Mulligan (0-2, 1f), J Quinn.
Subs used: B Kelly for D Hughes; J McGahan (0-1) for M Hughes; P Kelly for B Mulligan; B Mulligan for Quinn; M O’Connor for P Kelly; R Mullan for Monaghan.
Referee: G McCormack (Dublin)