Cookstown crowned champs after early salvo

Cookstown Fr Rocks captain Owen Mulligan lifts the Paddy Cullen Cup. INTT4312-706DCA
Cookstown Fr Rocks captain Owen Mulligan lifts the Paddy Cullen Cup. INTT4312-706DCA

An early scoring blitz from Cookstown helped them to the second Tyrone Intermediate Championship in four years in Healy Park on Friday night, writes Seamus Donnelly.

Having been fortunate to come away with a draw from the first tie just five days earlier, the Fr Rocks demonstrated a ruthlessness and an intensity that Eskra just couldn’t match to run out comfortable winners, claiming their fourth Tyrone Intermediate crown.

Eskra on the otherhand showed many of the same failings that had cost them victory in the first tie, with their attacking play sloppy and over reliant on the excellent Peter Hughes.

John McKeever made one change to his starting line up from the drawn game with Barry Mulligan coming into the starting line up in place of Paddy Kelly while Paul Feeney retained faith with the Eskra team that had started the previous Sunday.

From the outset Cookstown looked a lot more focussed and sharp than Eskra and were rewarded on the scoreboard in the opening minutes.

Remarkably it took the Fr Rocks just three minutes and 20 seconds to equal their scoring total from the previous Sunday with John Gilmore and James McGahan proving a handful for the Eskra defence.

Scoring into the Gortin Road goals on a perfect night for football it took Cookstown less than a minute to get their first point with James McGahan on target from a free.

Thirty seconds later John McKeever’s team had a goal having won the kickout the Fr Rocks attacked and as a shot dropped short around the square the imposing presence of John Gilmore was on hand to palm to the net despite pressure from the Eskra defence.

Seconds later Cookstown were at it again with Martin Murray and Shea McGarrity combining to allow midfielder Conor O’Hare to kick another point from in front of the posts.

While the Fr Rocks were attacking in waves Eskra were shell shocked and struggling to settle. Only Peter Hughes in the Emmet’s forward line offered any sort of threat to the Cookstown rearguard.

Hughes did get Eskra off the mark with a sweetly struck ‘45’, six minutes into the game.

Cookstown responded however with James McGahan and Gilmore combining for the latter to blast over the bar when a goal looked possible.

After 13 minutes the gap was six points, Owen Mulligan the next Cookstown player on target with a brilliant snap shot from 30 metres while under pressure from a couple of Eskra defenders.

Cookstown were defending brilliantly and in numbers something that was causing Eskra problems.

At one point during the first half there were 27 players inside the Cookstown half as Eskra became increasingly frustrated at the Cookstown defence.

They did keep themselves in touch with two Peter Hughes points, the first from a 35 metre free and then a wonderfully taken point from the left wing after selling a dummy to two Cookstown defenders.

Cookstown though weren’t about to be reeled in and their counter attacking style was paying dividends with Owen Mulligan point twice from straight forward frees after fouls on McGahan and on Mulligan himself.

Conor O’Hare then kicked his second of the game an inspirational point as he fired the ball into the night sky and over the bar from the right wing.

With Cookstown in control Eskra made two late first half changes and they paid dividends of sorts when one of the subs Darren McCaffrey set up wing back Cormac Arkinson for a point just before the break.

After a relatively free scoring first half the open period of the second half was a much tighter and tenser affair more reminiscent of the drawn game.

Eskra dominated the exchanges but their failure to register their dominance on the scoreboard put the game out of reach for them

Cookstown to their credit defended very well and gave the Eskra attack little space.

Eskra eventually got on target in the second half with a Shane Hackett fisted effort.

The game did become a little fractious midway through the half as Cookstown lost Barry Mulligan to a straight red card after he was adjudged to have struck out during a melée.

Mulligan’s absence only served to spur on the Fr Rocks however as they kicked on.

Conor O’Hare once again got on the end of a Tom Mullan pass to kick his third of the evening from play.

Brian Mulligan introduced for Shea McGarrity didn’t waste anytime getting in on the scoring act as Eskra’s efforts over the two games began to show.

Martin Hughes and Conor O’Hare both got themselves on the scoresheet for Cookstown, O’Hare’s effort a fantastic point from the right wing.

Eoin McCaffrey and Peter Hughes got late points for Eskra but they couldn’t engineer the goal chance they desperately needed to get back into the game.

The Fr Rocks almost got a goal as Martin McVey’s effort hit Eskra goalkeeper Daire McCarroll and went over the bar but it mattered little as the game fizzled out.

Cookstown were deserved winners on the night and have now moved to the top of the Intermediate title roll of honour moving onto four titles alongside Donaghmore.

Eskra will look back on the drawn game with plenty of regrets but on Friday night they were clearly second best.

Cookstown now advance to Armagh side Killeavy in the Ulster club championship on Sunday 4th November in the Morgan Athletic Grounds.