DEFEATED by the better team, Finuge can have no excuses.
They might well feel that the referee did them no favours. They might have a point. They might not. It doesn't matter now. All that matters is the result and the result doesn't favour them.
Even had they retained fifteen men on the pitch for the duration it's unlikely they would have won this match. Cookstown had too much for them in too many sectors of the pitch to be denied. That's the reality, stark and uncomforting as it may be to Finuge.
Scores, or rather the lack of them, were always going to be their big problem in this game. What chances they had, they had to take. If they scored what they did in previous rounds – 0-9 against Monasterevin, 1-5 against St Vincents – they weren't going to win this match. They managed six. They lost. No surprise.
Within ten minutes that was apparent. They had chances early in the game to gain a foothold in this fixture. They seemed to be moving well. Maurice Corridan and Paul Galvin had a grip around the middle. They were creating chance after chance. They created a goal chance with Eamonn Fitzmaurice setting up John Griffin for a shot. And yet by the end of the first ten minutes of this game they had but a point (by James Flaherty) to show for their efforts, with Marty Rea saving Griffin's effort.
It's all very well to create chances, it's just that wides don't win games. Cookstown gradually came to grips with Finuge around the middle, aided possibly by a yellow card Maurice Corridan picked up just eight minutes into the game. In response to Conor Mullan and Conor O'Hare's increasing dominance Finuge dropped Eamonn Fitzmaurice, who had started at full-forward, deeper. The problem with that was that it curtailed Finuge's offensive play and didn't do a huge amount to stem the Cookstown tide.
Not that they were that much better than Finuge, not that they were scoring for fun. They were just that little bit ahead of Finuge all the time. After quarter of an hour they led four points to one. In the space of five minutes they eclipsed Finuge's opening gambit. They had their lead and wouldn't give it up again. Finuge would close the gap before the break to a single point – John Griffin, one of Finuge's better performers on the night, fisted a point and Eamonn Fitzmaurice stepped up to the mark with a point from play and a free.
Even after that spurt the feeling was that Finuge wouldn't have enough in the tank to defeat Fr Rocks. Not with the Tyrone side's full-back line in such brilliant form. Mike Conway and James Flaherty were suffocated every time the ball came their way as Cookstown maintained a three to two advantage there at all times with Stephen Monaghan in particularly inspired form.
Despite John Colbert moving FItzmaurice back inside to the full-forward line, the Ulster champs were on the front foot right from the off in the second half. They had two points, both by Jason Quinn, and an effort at goal by Ryan Pickering (blocked by Chris Allen, below), before one of the defining moments of the game – a second yellow card for Maurice Corridan. Five points down with their ball winner off the pitch there was no way Finuge were going to win this game.
Pat Corridan replied with, arguably, the game's finest score. A peach of a point from about 40-45 yards struck with the outside of his right boot that curled beautifully over the bar. Unfortunately that's not what will be remembered. Instead people will discuss his red card, whether it was harsh, whether it was justified. It doesn't matter now, his sending off ended whatever vestiages of hope Finuge had and they were slim by then. Especially after James McGahan's expertly struck goal.
A Paul Galvin point from a free was all they managed when they were down to thirteen men. Cookstown were rampant. They kicked five second half wides. They could have and should have won by more with Barry Mulligan cleaning up around the middle, with Owen Mulligan exerting his influence from around the middle, with Raymond Mulgrew off the bench, with John Gilmore scoring his first point of the game.
Finuge, so well known for their fight and their spirit, didn't give up, the fire in their bellies never quenched, but even they must have known the impossibility of the position they found themselves in as a clock ticked down. Yet another Kerry team outthough and outfought in Croke Park by a northern side. No shame it that. Not that it makes it any easier to take.
Finuge: Cillian Fitzmaurice, Chris Allen, Trevor McKenna, Declan McCarthy, Paudie Galvin (0-1f), Pat Corridan (0-1), Conor Fitzmaurice, Paul Galvin, Maurice Corridan, Raymond Galvin, John Griffin (0-1), Stephen Power, James Flaherty (0-1), Eamonn Fitzmaurice (0-2, 1f), Mike Conway Subs: Ricky Heffernan for S Power, Keefer Roche for P Galvin, Jack Corridan for M Conway, John McCarthy for J Flaherty
Cookstown: Marty Rea, Paul McGurk, Stephen Monaghan, Jason Quinn (0-3), Ryan Pickering, Martin Murray, Martin Hughes (0-1), Conor Mullan, Conor O'Hara, Shea McGarrity (0-1), Barry Hughes, Brian Mulligan, John Gilmore (0-1), Owen Mulligan (0-3,2f), James McGahan (1-0) Subs: Raymond Mulgrew for C O'Hare, David Hughes for P McGurk, Barry Mulligan for C Mullan, Ruarí Mullan for S McGarrity, Paddy Kelly for B Mulligan
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford)