Cushendall skipper Neil McManus: 'We left it all on the grass and it's tough to take'
THE tears weren’t far away as Neil McManus stood on Parnell Park reflecting on what might have been for his club.
“It comes down to very fine margins,” said the Cushendall skipper with a sigh and a shake of his head.
He hadn’t left the field after the ’Dall’s 0-18 to 2-11 defeat and the hurl he had used to score 1-6 with against Galway’s St Thomas was still in his hand. A famous win had briefly been in the Ruairi Og’s when Donal McNaughton’s raced through on goal deep in injury-time.
Cushendall trailed by a point at that stage and McNaughton could have tapped over an equaliser to send the All-Ireland semi-final into extra-time. Instead he went for broke and his shot was blocked by a Galway boot. McManus says he made the right decision.
“Donal puts them in time after time,” said McManus.
“I was urging him to go for goal – a goal would have won it. It was the right man on the right ball at the right time and they got lucky. It hit somebody (Cathal Burke) on the foot – he didn’t know anything about it. Donal hits the ball harder than anybody in Ireland.”
Cushendall were 1-3 to 0-13 behind at the end of a first half throughout which they had looked nervy and played second fiddle to their slick opponents. But all that changed in the second half as the Antrim men roared back into the game, levelling it before St Thomas corner-back David Sherry joined the attack and swung over what turned out to be the winner from near the left touchline.
McManus said: “Was there a point in it at the end? From a corner-back on the sideline…
“They got a couple of rolls of the dice at the end which really worked out in their favour which you have to take on the chin but it feels quite unfair at the minute.
“We put in a massive effort and I’m so proud of the club and the support we had was incredible.
“The players left everything on the grass.
“Cushendall do not give up,” added the skilful midfielder.
“We never have and we never well. It doesn’t make it (losing) any better but we don’t give up. We went until we could go no further and the boys came off the bench – it’s been a massive effort from the panel and there’s as many in the management team as there is players.
“I’m very proud to be a Cushendall man here today but it’s tough to take, it’s tough to take.”
St Thomas now look forward to an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny’s Ballyhale Shamrocks. Fintan Burke – one of five brothers on the team – was immense for the Connacht champions in the first half.
“They’re a good team and we knew at half-time that, with the breeze, they were going to come out and have a purple patch,” he said.
“We’ve been saying all year that every team will get their purple patch and it’s about stemming the flow of it. Our full-back went down for a couple of minutes and it broke their momentum and we’re just really lucky to get over the line.
“Cathal cleared the shot at the end there - it wasn’t his first time to clear one off the line for us! The lad who took the shot: Should he have gone for goal? Should he have put it over? I dunno, if it had have been me it would have been straight over the bar – draw the match.”
He added: “We were in the stand when we won it in 2012 (St Thomas beat Offaly’s Kilcormac/Killoughey in the final) so it’ll be nice to be out on the pitch playing this time.”