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Slaughtneil left to rue Cassidy's red

Slaughtneil 1-07 Dr Crokes 1-09

By Declan Bogue at Croke Park

There are ways to lose finals, and then there are ways you end up beating yourself.

Heading towards half-time in the All-Ireland Club decider, Derry and Ulster champions Slaughtneil had put themselves in a good position. They trailed Dr Crokes by a single point and would be playing with a considerable wind towards Hill 16 in their advantage in the second half.

But then something overcame Padraig Cassidy. He was chasing a loose ball and won a free right on the fringe of the Hogan Stand sideline. Crokes forward Kieran O'Leary had a nibble at the back of Cassidy's head with a knee, and it earned him a punch in the unmentionables as retaliation.

Instantly, the linesman signalled to referee Maurice Deegan. Cassidy was handed a straight red card.

It was the first red card that Slaughtneil had been given in three years of Championship football under Mickey Moran. Given the way they play, it killed their prospects.

Paul Bradley managed to level the scores again at 1-6 each seven minutes into the second half, but Crokes were able to take the sting out of the game. With Colm Cooper left as the spare man, he was able to tease and frustrate simply by retaining possession.

Whenever they got in trouble, they just turned back and created triangles to outnumber the harassing Slaughtneil men.

It was such a pity. Cassidy himself had produced a moment of sheer class in the first half when, taking a lay-off from Cormac O'Doherty, he sold a classy dummy to Crokes goalkeeper Shane Murphy to slot home to an empty net.

That half also featured Slaughtneil's goal being breached for the first time in 10 Championship matches, since the start of their Derry campaign. Daithí Casey exerted a massive influence in the first half, Crokes creating a physical mismatch against Paul McNeill and one such driving run ending with him flicking a loose ball to who else but Cooper.

He did the usual.

For Cooper, this was the last great honour he had to win in the game, having five All-Ireland and eight Munster titles for Kerry.

A full 25 years ago he was mascot for the team that won it in 1992. One of his idols in that team was Pat O'Shea. At the final whistle, Cooper was taking a sideline kick beside O'Shea but once the peeps sounded, the two men embraced each other and rolled around the turf.

Some neat symmetry for the day.

Slaughtneil will have frustrations. Whenever they tried to get Chrissy McKaigue on the ball, he was instantly fouled at source, with high tackles the order of the day.

When pressed on the persistent fouling of McKaigue, Crokes selector Harry O'Neill was up front about it in the post-match assessment.

"Yeah, obviously because if you let Chrissy McKaigue get up and running, he's very hard to stop," he reasoned.

"We saw what he did against St Vincent's, he was a powerhouse there.

"Most managers, when they go into any big game like that, you try and target the biggest players - I'm saying target in a positive way in that you go to try and make sure those guys aren't having an influence on the game and he was one of the guys we would have earmarked."

With the footballers they possess, Dr Crokes were comfortable enough in possession that a one-point lead would have been more than enough for them in the end. For Slaughtneil to win, they couldn't afford a single slip-up.

A phenomenal season ends with a bitter disappointment.

SLAUGHTNEIL: A McMullan; F McEldowney 0-1, B Rodgers, K McKaigue; P McNeill, C McKaigue, K Feeney; Patsy Bradley, P Cassidy 1-0; Shane McGuigan 0-1, Paul Bradley 0-3f, M McGrath; C Bradley 0-2, Sé McGuigan, C O'Doherty

Subs: B Cassidy for O'Doherty (48), R Bradley and B McGuigan for McGrath and Feeney (52), G Bradley for Sé McGuigan (54)

DR CROKES: S Murphy; J Payne, M Moloney, L Quinn; D O'Leary, G White, F Fitzgerald; A O'Donovan, A O'Sullivan; J Buckley, G O'Shea, B Looney 0-3; C Cooper 1-2, 2f, D Casey 0-3, 2f, K O'Leary

Subs: J Kiely and M Burns 0-1 for O'Shea and O'Sullivan (39), S Doolin for O'Leary (48), T Brosnan for Looney (58), E Brosnan and C Brady for Casey and O'Leary (63)

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