“By Liam Tunney
The cool of the evening was sidling into the vacuum left by the setting sun at Parnell Park as the Ruairí Óg supporters rallied around their devastated players in commiseration following their narrow All-Ireland Club SHC Semi-Final defeat to St Thomas’ of Galway.
A visibly disappointed Eamon Gillan observed things with the agonised grimace of a man wondering what might have been.
“I thought we were going to win it,” he lamented, “when it went level with four or five minutes to go, because we were on top that whole second half.”
“Agonising is the right word. They just broke away, got a couple of scores at crucial times and it cost us in the end.”
A heroic second half comeback had ultimately ended in disappointment, St Thomas’ corner back David Sherry popping up in the 64th minute to find his side a winner, and Donal McNaughton’s late goal attempt ricocheting back off a defender’s hurl to safety.
Gillan defended the Cushendall stalwart’s decision:
“At the end of the day, if that hits the back of the net then we’d have won the match. If we’d got the score then it would have gone to extra time and that’s a lottery. I don’t blame him.”
The Cushendall men were driven on in the second half by the ever-consistent Neil McManus, whose accuracy and determination restored parity after a brief St Thomas’ flurry had seen them edge ahead again.
His young midfield partner Fergus McCambridge shot 1-01 in the second half, never breaking stride as he dipped the ball on the way to the goal that halved the deficit, while Gillan reserved special praise for Arron Graffin and his Lazarene recovery from injury.
“There’s only one man in this world could do that, and that’s Arron Graffin, he defied logic. But they all had a good second half, they all did things that lifted us.”
The Cushendall manager winces as he delivers his final verdict:
“We should have been going in with less of a deficit, but you couldn’t ask for more, we kept going and kept going and chipped away and came agonisingly close.”
“Agonisingly close” sums up yesterday’s events in Parnell Park perfectly, but when the post mortem is done and the dust settles, Ruairí Óg will be content in the knowledge that they left everything on the pitch, the exhausted bodies and minds that milled among their faithful support on the turf on Saturday afternoon testament to that Herculean effort.