Cookstown are on their way back to Croke Park after coming through a serious test of their All Ireland Club Intermediate championship title credentials when overcoming Charlestown at Pearse Park, Longford yesterday, writes Kevin Kelly.
On a day when driving rain and a sleet shower made playing good football almost impossible the Father Rocks dug deep to chisel out a result that was all about will to win, passion and commitment. Turning around five points in arrears at the break it would have been easy for them to throw up their heads and think that this wasn’t going to be their day but those thoughts aren’t in the make up of this Cookstown side and they produced a storming second half display to deservedly force extra time were a solitary score from substitute James McGahan was enough to win the day. Their opposition in the final will once again be from Kerry, this time in the form of a Finuge side who defeated Stewartstown in the All Ireland junior final eight years ago. The Father Rocks no doubt will do everything in their power to ensure the result is different this time as they bid to create another piece of history and become the first Tyrone club to win two All Ireland titles.
With the wind at their backs prematch favourites Charlestown were keen to make a good start and they did just that with centre half forward Mark Caffery landing a great score with only thirteen seconds gone on the clock. Colm Maye then converted a 4” but by the ninth minute the Tyrone champions were back on level terms thanks to two outstanding points from the boot of Shay McGarrity.
Cookstown were beginning to warm to the task but three minutes later they were caught napping with a quickly taken free kick and full forward Anthony Mulligan made them pay by crashing the ball to the back of the net.
Both sides missed chances before centre half back Martin Murray, (above) who was the best player on the pitch, got Cookstown a much needed score when he converted a free from out on the right wing. They failed to score though for the rest of the first half and with their defence coming under increasing pressure frees were coughed up which Richard Haran  and Maye both converted to leave the Mayo and Connacht champions leading 1-5 to 0-3 at the short whistle.
It was by no means an insurmountable advantage and when Owen Mulligan lofted over a superb point from play five minutes into the second half the comeback was on. Mulligan then knocked over a free and while Haran responded at the other end of the field it was Cookstown who had the bit between their teeth. With Paul McGurk, Stephen Monaghan, Ryan Pickering and Murray to the fore in defence and the two Conors Mullan and O’Hare getting on top in midfield they continued to push forward. Mullan fired over an eye catching point from distance and with ten minutes to go Cookstown got a bit of luck that they deserved when a high ball from the left wing from Murray went all the way to the net.
Charlestown were now under the cosh and while they retook the lead from another Haran placed ball you knew that Cookstown were far from finished. With three minutes to go O’Hare popped up with a fabulous equaliser and in the final attack of normal time Mullan almost won it only to see his long range effort crash off the post.
The scene was therefore set for extra time and with both sides giving it their all scores proved to be at a premium. In fact the only score in the entire extra time came from substitute James McGahan after only twenty seconds, last season’s county minor finishing in style from out on the right wing.
Cookstown’s defence stood firm coming out with the ball time after time while at the they missed chances that on another day could have proved costly, hitting a dozen wides in total. There was drama right at the end of the game when Anthony Mulligan won a free out on the left hand side and the referee moved it into a more advantageous position after something was said.
It left the ball only thirteen metres out and Charlestown elected to bring Maye back on to take the crucial kick. It looked like a straightforward conversion but amazingly his effort off the ground dropped short and when the danger was cleared the final whistle sounded much to the delight of the Cookstown players and their faithful supporters.