MacLARNON CUP: Controversial penalty costs St. Columb’s against Cookstown

St. Colmb's College All Star keeper Dylan Doherty makes a crucial save during Friday's MacLarnon Cup semi-final against Holy Trinity in Drumragh.
St. Colmb's College All Star keeper Dylan Doherty makes a crucial save during Friday's MacLarnon Cup semi-final against Holy Trinity in Drumragh.

Danske Bank MacLarnon Cup Semi-Final

Holy Trinity, Cookstown 1-17, St. Columb’s College 2-12

A controversial penalty 10 minutes from the end of regulation time proved decisive as St. Columb’s College suffered extra-time MacLarnon Cup heartbreak in Friday’s semi-final against tournament favourites Holy Trinity College, Cookstown.

St. Columb's College Eoin McElhinney makes a fantastic high against Holy Trinity on Friday.

St. Columb's College Eoin McElhinney makes a fantastic high against Holy Trinity on Friday.

The Buncrana Road school had been superb against a team including Tyrone senior player, David Mugrew, and last year’s Ulster Club Minor Player of the Year, Conan McLernon, establishing a six point lead before their All Star keeper, Dylan Doherty, was harshly adjudged to have felled Mulgrew.

McLernon dispatched the resulting penalty which changed the momentum of a game that St. Columb’s were previously in charge of with only a late Caolan O’Connor free taking the Derry lads to extra time.

There was still not a kick of the ball between the teams in extra-time but with a replay looming, Tomas Carney and Mulgrew hit two superb late points from play to finally win a titanic battle.

“We have nothing but pride and praise for this squad after that display,” said St. Columb’s coach Michael mcLaughlin who has been working closely with manager Eamon Burns this year.

The boys had showed unbelievable character and nerve throughout the game, giving every last ounce of energy for the cause. At the end of the day, what else can you ask from a group young lads?

St. Columb’s Asst. Manager, Michael McLaughlin

“The boys had showed unbelievable character and nerve throughout the game, giving every last ounce of energy for the cause. At the end of the day, what else can you ask from a group young lads,?

“For those Year 14 boys on the team, they have left the St. Cloumb’s jersey in a very good place and for that we thank them.”

The frustration will be that to suggest the St. Columb’s game-plan was working for the majority of this semi-final would be an huge understatement.

The Derry College dropped two sweepers in front of the full-back line, cutting out the quality deliver to Mulgrew. With Jamie Brown tasked with shackling McLernon, full-back Ross Stevenson picked up Tyrone minor Paul Donnelly while Cillian Higgins was on yet another Tyrone minor Tomas Carney.

St. Columb's College Conor Feeney wins a high ball during Friday's MacLarnon Cup semi-final aginst Holy Trnity College.

St. Columb's College Conor Feeney wins a high ball during Friday's MacLarnon Cup semi-final aginst Holy Trnity College.

And things began well for St. Columb’s. O’Connor scored three frees in the opening half while Conor Feeney scored a wonderful long range effort in between. Cookstown, through the accurate free taking of McLernon and Carney kept in touch but St Columb’s entered the half time interval a point to the good and looking very much like the team in control.

Cookstown had more purpose on the restart, and took the lead for the first time through two more Carney frees and a point from Derry minor Paddy Coney point to leave it 0-06 to 0-04.

With St Columb’s beginning to feel aggrieved by the free count tallying up against them they responded in the best fashion possible.

In the 40th minute, Feeney, through excellent transition play, found the back of the net and this goal was quickly followed by points from Faughnavale pair, Sean Bradley and Eoin McElhinney. The icing on the cake during that period arrived after turnover ball was won at midfield, and yet another accurate delivery was sent in to Bradley, who dispatched a wonderful effort to the top corner.

With 15 minutes remaining, St Columb’s had one foot in final until the penalty decision. Cookstown, for the first time in the game found a gap through the centre of St Columb’s with a wonderful ‘give and go’ between Carney and Mulgrew, the latter then one-on-one with Doherty who appeared to pull off a great save at the forward’s feet. The referee’s whistle was greeted with bewilderment by the Derry players and spectators alike but McLernon scored to leave three between them. St. Columb’s still stunned by the penalty decision conceded yet another free which McLernon pointed, leaving only two between the teams.

The decision clearly unsettled St. Columb’s as they lost possession from the next two kick-outs with Donnelly and Caolan Monaghan converting from play to level.

The game lost all shape as both teams went toe-to-toe in the final five minutes in search of the winner which looked to have materialised after yet another free from McLernon. However, St Columb’s dug deep to fashion one more chance through Bradley who was fouled on the 21m line. Verbals between Cookstown players and the referee saw Derry minor Coney sent off before O’Connor held his nerve to force extra-time.

When Doherty struck two of the game’s best scores off the ground and all of 50m out against the wind to cancel out two Cookstown scores, it looked like a replay before Carney and Mulgrew broke Derry hearts to secure Cookstown’s first appearance in the MacLarnon Cup final since their move from Vocational Schools.

St Columb’s College: Sean Bradley 1-01, Conor Feeney 1-01, Caolan O’Connor 0-04, Dylan Doherty 0-02, Sean Mortimer 0-01, Andy Moore 0-01, Eoin McElhinney 0-01, Mark McAdams 0-01.

Cookstown: Conon McLernon 1-03, David Mulgrew 0-05, Tomas Carney 0-04 Paddy Coney 0-02, Paul Donnelly 0-01, Caolan Monaghan 0-01, James Devlin 0-01.