It was clear daylight robbery. Colaiste na Carraige were denied their chance to appear in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park by a very controversial late refereeing call in Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday.
Leading by a point with time up, they gave away a free trying to take a quick free out of defence which allowed Abbey CBS to level.
It should have meant extra-time as almost three minutes of added time were played, but referee Paddy Neilan of Roscommon (who was having a good game up to that) decided that there was time for another play. The kick-out was won by Abbey in midfield and they were awarded a dubious free.
The free was launched towards the Carrick goal but ended up on the 20m line to the right. There was a scramble between players of both sides and out of the blue the referee blew and awarded a free in which was converted. From the kick-out the referee blew the final whistle.
The Carrick mentors and supporters were incensed as the referee only found two extra minutes in the opening half even though there were more stoppages. Indeed any stoppages that occured in the game were for over robust challenges on Conor Doherty.
It was a cruel way to lose out and especially as the Donegal boys were by far the better footballing side.
Their only downfall was that they didn’t convert all their chances. Indeed, they failed to score one chance from their frees. On the other hand, Abbey CBS got six of their nine points from frees.
But even though Colaiste na Carraige were below par (with some unusually poor handling and turnovers) they had done enough and didn’t deserve to have the game decided with a dubious final free.
Colaiste na Carraige were off to a good start and could have had a goal after three minutes when Conor Doherty pulled his effort wide. But good turnovers saw Philip McNern and Brian O’Donnell get two points on the board after six minutes.
Conor Doherty was wide with a 20m free and by the 15th minute Carrick had hit six wides and their lead was just a point after Keith Landy pointed for the Tipperary boys.
Aaron Doherty increased the lead and after the Tipperary ‘keeper intercepted a goal chance, Lanty Molloy picked up the pieces to stretch the lead to three, 0-4 to 0-1.
But Abbey CBS came back in the second quarter with big midfielder Josh Ryan landing a magnificent free from 45m and Andrew Vance converting a 20m free to leave just one between them.
It looked as if the Carrick boys did not have their shooting boots but quick thinking by Brian O’Donnell saw him deliver a great free over the top to Pauric O’Neill, who elected to take his point when bearing down on goal.
A minute later on the stroke of half-time Aaron Doherty and Christopher Cunningham created the opening for Conor Doherty to add the last point of the half.
Just before the half-time whistle the Donegal boys were through again after good work by Gary Molloy but the final shot from Philip Doherty was straight at the Abbey ‘keeper.
Half-time Colaiste na Carraige 0-6, Abbey CBS 0-3.
As expected playing into the stiff breeze was not any trouble for Carrick. They had two wides inside five minutes but great work by Philip McNern in defence saw Conor Doherty start and finish a great move on 36 minutes.
Josh Lacey, as he did in the opening half, found the range from a 45m free, but Carrick were very content to keep possession and they almost got in for a goal on 45 minutes when Gary Molloy created the opening but Lanty Molloy’s final effort was saved closed to the line.
In the final quarter, as a heavy drizzle accompanied the rain, conditions became difficult. Stephen O’Dwyer hit a point for Abbey and Andrew Vance found the range when a free was moved on. A minute later when Philip McNern was uncharacteristically caught in possession, Josh Ryan punished to bring the sides level with ten minutes left.
Carrick were still comfortable and when they won another free in the 57th minute Aaron Doherty took over the duties, but his effort was short, but the ball was turned over and Conor Doherty fired over the lead point once more.
Christopher Byrne made some great catches from excellent kick-outs from Jamie McGinley and Abbey lost Shane Ryan for a black card tackle on Conor Doherty (he had been shown yellow earlier). Time was almost up, but Doherty’s free, from 30m, was blown across the goal and it stayed in play.
In what was thought to be the final attack, Abbey were gifted the equaliser when Carrick won a free almost on their own goalline. They elected to take it quickly and it ended in disaster.
The players were distraught when the final whistle went. They had given so much with Pauric Cunningham giving some 55 minutes on just one leg; the young wing half-backs Brian O’Donnell and Gary Molloy (born on the same day) were just superb.
Colaiste na Carraige: Michael Cunningham; Daniel Lyons, Jamie McGinley, Paul Doherty; Brian O’Donnell (0-1), Philip Doherty, Gary Molloy; Paddy Byrne, Christopher Byrne; Aaron Doherty (0-1), Pauric Cunningham, Lanty Molloy (0-1); Philip McNern (0-1), Pauric O’Neill (0-1), Conor Doherty (0-3). Subs., Conor Carr for P Cunningham 55
Abbey CBS: C Fanning; S Ryan, E MacNamara, S Moloney; T Lowry, S Power, D Byron; J Ryan (0-3,2f), B Fanning; S Neville, K Landy (0-1), C Hennessy; A Vance (0-4,4f), D Egan, S O’Dwyer (0-1). Subs., S Ryan for Hennessy ht; P Ryan for Landy 56.
Referee: P Neilan (Roscommon)