From fairytale to frustration for Faughanvale!

Faughanvale's Jordan Curran tries to get a block in on Rockcorry sweeper Colin Quinn during the ulster Final. (Photo: Presseye.com)
Faughanvale's Jordan Curran tries to get a block in on Rockcorry sweeper Colin Quinn during the ulster Final. (Photo: Presseye.com)

Faughanvale 0-09, Rockcorry 3-10

Faughanvale’s season didn’t deserve the end it got in the Athletic Grounds on Sunday. Joe Gray’s men never recovered from a ‘caught in the head-lights’ opening quarter which handed an impressive Rockcorry side an initiative they never looked like letting go.

The Monaghan champions were worthy winners and in goalkeeper Jamie Smith and full-forward, Fergal McGeough, they have two stars in the making. Both were critical to their side’s win.

Yet for all the excellence of Rockcorry, the frustration for St. Mary’s was they only managed to give glimpses of the form they have shown throughout the season. This was an opportunity lost from that perspective.

And even with the below par performance, Faughanvale had their chances. Despite playing second fiddle for most of the game, the ‘Vale fashioned FIVE clear goal chances to Rockcorry’s three. Had even one of those been taken, especially one of four in the first half, the landscape of this final could have changed significantly as Joe Gray admitted afterwards.

“Rockcorry were a better team on the day and they proved it,” conceded the ‘Vale player-manager, “We’re massively disappointed. In terms of a performance, I don’t think it was anywhere near the level we’ve produced all year and that’s going to be the hardest thing to take.

Faughanvale's Aaron Cassiday tangles with Niall Mc Keown during the Ulster Junior Final in Armagh. (Photograph: Presseye)

Faughanvale's Aaron Cassiday tangles with Niall Mc Keown during the Ulster Junior Final in Armagh. (Photograph: Presseye)

“I don’t know (what went wrong), it’s hard to say. We’ll have to sit back and analyse it. I think we seemed to be heavy legged and I don’t think we had the same energy levels we normally have.

“I’m still massively proud of this team. We got relegated last year and it could have gone last year. But they stuck in, stuck to our task, trained really hard since the second week in January. It’s a very young team and this experience will do them good. Hopefully we learn from this and kick on next year.”

Almost from the throw-in the danger signs were there for ‘Vale. Rockcorry manager Mickey Moran had done his homework and the Derry champions badly missed Michael McLaughlin’s influence around the middle.

Where Faughanvale were tentative, Rockcorry were dynamic and pushed right up on the ‘Vale half-back line.

“I’m still massively proud . . . It’s a very young team and this experience will do them good. Hopefully we learn from this and kick on next year.”

Faughanvale manager Joe Gray

It left acres in behind the Monaghan men from which ‘Vale fashioned those first half goal chances but the Greysteel men never got out of their half enough and were forced into countless turnovers.

The Monaghan champions gambled by playing so high up the pitch but it paid off handsomely. They left sweeper Colin Quinn in front of their full-back line and a three-man ‘Vale forward line of Kevin Martin, Conor O’Hara and Eunan Murray. ‘Vale danger man Martin started well with an early point but picked up an injury which eventually forced him off only minutes into the second half. It was that sort of day.

Eoin McElhinney was the one ‘Vale player who looked capable of opening up Rockcorry in the first half but it was at the other end that the real problems presented themselves.

Corner-forward Mary McGuirk and Lorcan Smyth were dangerous but the movement of McGeough was superb. The Monaghan men used a constantly rotating target man to pull the ‘Vale defensive shape apart and allow for runners to arrive at pace and pick off scores. It was a clever ploy but could only ever be accommodated with a forward of McGeough’s intelligence and hinted at Rockcorry’s recent past in senior football.

Faughanvale's Euan Murray is stopped by a combination of  Rockcorry duo Mark Thornton and Noel Carroll during Sunday's  Ulster Junior Final in Armagh.

Faughanvale's Euan Murray is stopped by a combination of Rockcorry duo Mark Thornton and Noel Carroll during Sunday's Ulster Junior Final in Armagh.

In the 11 previous Ulster Junior finals, only once has the title been won by a club from outside Monaghan or Tyrone (Armagh’s An Port Mor in 2012) and from early on Rockcorry had this game within their control.

Five minutes was all it took for McGuirk to register 1-01, his goal a lovely flashing shot across Daryl Moore into the far corner. It was a half chance at best but the efficiency of the finish was what ‘Vale missed all afternoon. Well, that and Jamie Smith!

The young Monaghan keeper has seen his reputation grow throughout his club’s championship run and Sunday’s final only enhanced it further following a succession of saves that stopped Faughanvale getting a foothold.

Even before McGuirk had kick-started the Rockcorry masterplan, McElhinney had set up Aaron Cassidy, coming in from the left but Smith was out to block.

Then, with ‘Vale trailing by 1-03 to 0-01 on 11 minutes, Steven King was fouled but the free was awarded from where the ball landed. One quick pass later and Odhran McKinney was charging through on goal but again found Smith out to block his shot superbly. Not content with that, the keeper was back on his feet as the ball broke to Eunan Murray and again, the Rockcorry No. 1 turned the fierce shot behind.

All the while, the Monaghan team was enjoying possession and picking off scores at the other end but another ‘Vale break-out on 19 minutes saw Mckinney lob a high ball toward the edge of the square. For once Smith was beaten as Conor O’Hara broke the ball down to Marty McGuiness but the ‘Vale player sent his low finish through a crowd of players and inches wide of the far post.

It meant a 1-06 to 0-2 lead at the interval for Rockcorry but it could have been so different.

“That (early goal) was a set-back,” added Gray, “To be fair their ‘keeper pulled off three great saves in the first half which could have kept us in touch. That’s a credit to him and he’s been doing that all year by all accounts.”

“We were always going to be up against it after the way things went in the first half. We came out and tried to give it a go, picked off a couple of scores but then they went up the field and got a couple of goals. That took the sting out of us again. You’re fighting a losing battle from there on.”

There was brief hope of an unlikely comeback after a bright opening to the second half from ‘Vale, Marty McGuinness with two delightful scores but McGeough’s 35th minute goal dashed those with an outrageous left footed finish into the top corner.

From there it was all about pride and both the Faughanvale players and supporters showed it in bucket loads. Gray himself missed a late chance of a consolation goal while ‘Rock’ substitute Martin Carroll managed to tuck his effort away but it was only aesthetics at that point.

The final whistle may have ended 2015 on a sour note for Faughanvale but that disappointment will soon be replaced by pride in a group of players who have lifted the club back into Intermediate football and found it a place on the provincial football map.

Faughanvale: Daryl Moore; Declan McGuinness, Michael Sweeney (0-1), Gordon Fahey; Jordan Curran (0-1), Steven King, Aaron Cassidy; Odhran McKinney, Ryan King; Eoin McElhinney, Joe Gray (0-3, 2f), Martin McGuinness (0-2); Kevin Martin (0-1), Conor O’Hara, Eunan Murray (0-1, 1f). (Subs) Sean Bradley for K Martin (inj) 32mins; Oisin Quinn for C O’Hara, 43mins; Michael McLaughlin for O McKinney, 57mins.

Rockcorry: Jamie Smith; Colin Quinn, Johnny Reilly, Niall McKeown; Stephen McGuirk (0-1), Keith Daly, Conor McGeough; Mark Thornton, Mark Daly (0-1); Cathal Sheridan, Fergal McGeough (1-4, 1f), Paul McKeown (0-1); Mark McGuirk (1-1, 1f), Noel Carroll, Lorcan Smyth (0-2). (Subs) Martin Carroll (1-0) for C Sheridan, 51mins;Anthony Tate (0-1, 1f) for S McGuirk, 58mins; Aaron McGorman for L Smyth, 61mins.

Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim)