Visions of a second All-Ireland club title in just three years may be forming on the Cookstown horizon but manager John McKeever will ensure his players’ feet remain firmly on the ground following this Ulster final triumph over Warrenpoint at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh.
It was only after the Down champions had been reduced to 13 players in extra-time that Cookstown stamped their imprimatur on a contest that was rich in skill, high in intensity and embossed with some titanic individual displays.
“We always knew it would go down to the wire and we enjoyed good fortune when Jason Quinn got an equalising point at the end of normal time,” said McKeever.
“When we played Doohamlet in the semi-final we were pushed very hard and I knew that would prove good preparation for this final and that’s how it turned out,” he commented.
“Obviously we will enjoy this provincial success and then we will focus on the All Ireland semi-final.
“We will definitely not be favourites for that so we know we have work to do in the interim,” he said.
Skipper Owen Mulligan hailed the spirit that the team displayed and had a special bouquet for two-goal hero John Gilmore.
“He has not been the best lately with injuries and yet look at the job he has done by coming in and getting those great goals for us,” enthused Mulligan.
Certainly, Cookstown’s work ethic was very much in evidence yesterday. And in James McGahon, John Gilmore and Owen Mulligan they had predatory forwards who made life difficult for the Warrenpoint defence throughout the game.
A 27th minute goal from Gilmore cemented a 1-5 to 0-4 lead with Warrenpoint relying almost entirely on full-forward Ross McGarry for scores from frees.
When McGahon prodded home Cookstown’s second goal five minutes into the second-half, he appeared to have sounded the death-knell on Warrenpoint’s title ambitions.
Yet the Down side revealed resilience and no little character in clawing their way back into the match with McGarry’s unerring accuracy from frees largely sustaining their challenge.
But it was Gabriel Smith’s out-of-the-blue goal in the 50th minute that transformed the match, further energising Warrenpoint’s revival.
A brace of points from the ice-cool McGarry thrust his side into a one-point lead, offering the prospect of a fairytale ending, particularly as Cookstown’s Barry Hughes was dismissed in the 55th minute after incurring two yellow cards.
But substitute Quinn’s superb long-range score signalled extra-time during which Warrenpoint suffered a cruel double blow when
Ruairi Cowan and substitute Shea Curran were sent off.
Their exit marked the beginning of the end for their team, especially when man of the match Gilmore pirated a third Cookstown goal to ease the Tyrone side towards victory.
Warrenpoint manager Conor Tinnelly conceded that the Cookstown goals had ultimately sapped his side’s morale.
“But I’m proud of these boys just the same,” declared Tinnelly.
“They have worked very hard all year,” he said.
“However, you cannot expect to give away goals and win matches of this importance.”
Cookstown: M Rea; B Kelly, S Monaghan,D Hughes; R Pickering, M Murray, B Mulligan (0-1); C Mullan (0-1), C O’Hare; S McGarrity (0-1), B Hughes, M Hughes; J Gilmore (2-2) , O Mulligan (0-3, 0-2 frees), J McGahan (1-3). Subs: M O’Connor for Monaghan (half-time), J Quinn for McGarrity 50), B Mulligan (0-1) for M Hughes (53), T Mullan for B Mulligan (58), P Kelly (0-1) for O’Hare (58), P McGurk for Kelly (86), M McVeigh for McGahon (88).
Warrenpoint: T Franklin; A Grimes, N McCartan, D O’Connor; R Boyle, C McCartan, J Murchan; R Mallon, P Traynor; G Smith (1-1) R Cowan, C McLoughlin; R McAleenan, R McGarry (0-9, all frees), G Morgan (0-1). Subs: S Curran for McLoughlin (38 mins), J Grant for Morgan (45), C Clarke for Cowan (46).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).