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'A lot of the marginal calls were not going our way' - Malachy O'Rourke bemoans refereeing decisions

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A dejected Malachy O’Rourke. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

A dejected Malachy O’Rourke. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

A dejected Malachy O’Rourke. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Almost an hour had passed since the end but still there were knots of Monaghan players and management by the side of the Croke Park pitch in quiet conversation, like mourners lingering in quiet discussion outside the house where a funeral is taking place.

The urge to get away quickly just wasn't there. They had to live the pain of defeat a little more at the scene.

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Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh battles Karl O’Connell for a high ball. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh battles Karl O’Connell for a high ball. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Tyrone’s Colm Cavanagh battles Karl O’Connell for a high ball. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Fingers pointed to areas where incidents happened, moments were recalled, still difficult to absorb. How had it slipped away? Will they have a chance like it again? Misfortune sometimes favours the brave.

This will gnaw away at them for days, weeks, months to come, years if there isn't redress in the near future.

The spectre of the 1988 All-Ireland semi-final and Brendan Murray clutching a smashed cheekbone as Cork walked in a goal was a pivotal turning point which was remembered for years after. There was no one moment like that here but still a great sense that an All-Ireland final, or at least an extra 20 minutes to go and earn it, had escaped them.

Malachy O'Rourke has spent six years as Monaghan manager quietly crafting and progressing one of the most competitive teams about, a group that has grown well-accustomed to survival at game's higher altitudes.

He has done so with diplomacy, swerving clear of potential landmines and controversy each step of the way. Verbal detonations just aren't his thing. It takes a lot to stir him.

And even when he comes in and takes his seat in the media interview room after this, the most painful defeat on his watch, the mild-mannered delivery hasn't left him. But you still sense the frustration and anger and it doesn't take long to come to the surface.

Monaghan have gone down the stretch with Tyrone in their bid for a first All-Ireland final appearance since 1930, hitting the front through a Conor McManus free in the 60th minute before an unkind ricochet from a Darren Hughes block on Tiernan McCann fell nicely for Niall Sludden to sidefoot past Rory Beggan at the other end, handing Tyrone the initiative again.

But it's the small print that is, with some justification, eating away at O'Rourke now.

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All day, it seems, they have had to work that bit harder for their frees and that sense of grievance now merges with the scant additional time - three minutes called though almost four were actually played - allowed at the end of the second half when Monaghan were coming again.

By recent standards, it's a paltry amount, scarcely factoring in the eight substitutions that some 20 seconds each are generally set aside for. That's 160 seconds, just shy of the three minutes that referee Anthony Nolan found.

"Every game we've been involved in there have been seven, eight, nine minutes of injury time," he recalled.

"I can't understand today how, with so many substitutes brought on - there is supposed to be 20 or 30 seconds per substitution and there were plenty of injuries all through the game - how he came up with three minutes of injury time. So that is really frustrating. We were on the front foot. We had scored two points in injury-time. To be cut off like that?" he questioned.

"I just did feel that after we went one up, Tyrone got the goal but we were really, really pressing. Really going at it. Right into injury-time we were still pushing forward. That's what makes it so frustrating, not get a wee bit more time. I think we scored two points in injury-time. It's not like a day when we hadn't scored in 10 minutes or something.

"We were on the front foot, we were doing a lot of things right, the boys were winning a lot of the individual battles to keep us on the front foot and look, it's just frustrating."

And there was more. As Rory Beggan, more than 80 metres from his own goal, skied a ball in the direction of the Tyrone goal, not the best option for one who had chosen his options so wisely all year, Nolan appeared to raise his hand to indicate a free in to Monaghan for a foul on Kieran Hughes, their second-half replacement who has fallen out of favour this summer but had come in to make quite an impact.

But no free manifested and Tyrone were able to clear their lines. O'Rourke lives in Tyrone, has worked there and was keen not to make it about them in any way. "I don't mean to be making excuses and no comment on Tyrone at all but just very disappointing for ourselves to come down here and just, the biggest day we have had, to be beaten like we were?" he asked.

"You know, someone like myself is not the best man to judge because you have a certain bias but I did feel that right through the game that a lot of the marginal calls weren't going our way.

"I thought we were having to work a lot harder to get a free and I don't mean this and I don't want it to reflect on Tyrone at all, nothing to do with them at all. Tyrone played the game and won it deservedly so."

Tyrone can have their own set of grievances too but from early on, when two clear fouls on Conor McManus (one of which forced a stoppage for treatment to a facial injury) went unpunished, it was clear just how hard Monaghan were going to have to work.

Even a sideline ball which appeared at first glance - though the linesman David Coldrick was well placed to view it - to go off a Tyrone leg in the build-up to their goal.

The value of an advantage, especially with kickers like McManus and Beggan who have a range and reliability from placed balls that gives them an edge over most teams, also came into question.

The rule has lowered free counts and kept games flowing but with the artillery that these players provide, how advantageous is it against a team like Tyrone who can pour bodies back to head off any danger after committing the initial foul? By staying on their feet and playing on they were, ironically, punishing themselves. In this context, the five-second window is in need of review.

McManus had his moments, scoring a fine opening point from play and winning three frees which he converted himself but a match-up with Pádraig Hampsey was well thought out by Mickey Harte.

And with Colm Cavanagh detailed for sweeping duties which he carried out with such precision, Niall Kearns grew in stature to cap a fine first championship year.

But that sense that their best form had again deserted them in Croke Park will weigh on them just as much as any marginal refereeing call. Hard as it may be to accept Tyrone were just about the better team.

The journey to get themselves back to where they were yesterday will be long and challenging. Four of the starting team were 30 or over, a fifth, Karl O'Connell will pass that milestone next month, not that it tells when he turns on the gas.

"It is a long way back but, in fairness to the boys, in the six years we've been there, we've always, I think nearly every year we've been in a quarter-final and this year we've been in a semi-final. So we've been really consistent," said O'Rourke.

"But if you're talking about going back to the start of next year, it's a long journey back. When you're so close, you want to try and make the best of it and it's just disappointing."

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