Garrycastle manager Anthony Cunningham believes his charges will learn a great deal from last Saturday's thrilling All-Ireland final draw against Crossmaglen Rangers.
"We would have learned a lot today. I suppose both sides would have some regrets about not winning, but then both sides were probably lucky to get the draw as well," said Cunningham in the aftermath of a drama-filled encounter.
"We went up by a couple of points with five minutes to go and looked like winners, but Cross' came back and had two or three great chances to go on and win it. It's even-steven and it's all set for another titanic battle again the next day."
The teams finished level after 60 plus dramatic minutes of football at Croke Par, and must now meet again in a replay next Saturday week.
Crossmaglen's domination of the kick-outs and breaking ball around midfield was a major feature of the closing stages last Saturday. It is something Garrycastle will be seeking to address in the replay.
"I think we were extremely unfortunate not to win some of the breaks (towards the end of the game). I think early on in the match we won a lot of the breaks," said Cunningham.
"There was a lot of broken play and a lot of 50:50 balls and, for the last three or four minutes, they got a run on us. We did well to get back up (the field) to get a couple of scores, to go up by two points. They used all their experience there in the finish, but we'll learn a lot from today, that's for sure."
On a personal level, last Saturday's result means Cunningham's dual mandate as manager of the Garrycastle footballers and Galway hurlers has been extended. A seemingly never-ending story continues.
"Look it, it's easy (combining the two roles) when you're in finals. We're still in the final, we still have a great chance of winning it. Only two teams can win it, we're still there," said Cunningham.
The Galway native expressed no preference in terms of the venue for the replay. "I don't know what they'll decide. It's up to Croke Park," he remarked.
Garrycastle earned many plaudits for the manner in which they took the game to the defending champions last Saturday.
"You have to take them on, they're fantastic players right through, you wouldn't be going out to admire them," said Cunningham.
"The one thing about Crossmaglen is that they let you play as well. They have some fine, fine players but so have Garrycastle, we're very proud of them. The team that learns more between the drawn match and the replay is usually the team that wins and we hope that's us," he continued. In advance of the final, Cunningham pinpointed Crossmaglen wing-back Aaron Kernan as one of the chief threats facing his team.
"His level of fitness is very high and he's a fantastic player," said Cunningham afterwards. "He had an influence on the game but not a massive influence. We had players who had just as big of an influence like James Dolan, Des (Dolan) and many others, and right through our defence, such John Gaffey in the full-back line. It's all there to play for again."
Almost every observer felt that Garrycastle wing-forward Paul Dillon was extremely lucky not to receive a red card early on, after he appeared to push his head towards Crossmaglen's Brendan McKeown. However, Cunningham downplayed the incident and defended his player.
"I don't think there was any contact whatsoever. There was a bit of play-acting as I saw it. It wasn't a dirty game by any means. The two players who got sent off (Garrycastle's Tom McHugh and Crossmaglen's Paul Kernan), it was probably for persistent fouling; there's wasn't any argy-bargy of any sort," said Cunningham.
Several refereeing decisions came in for criticism, but Cunningham felt the ledger balanced by the finish.
"Overall it was even stakes. We could have got a call or two for us, and there could have been a couple of calls more against us as well. That happens in an intense game like that." The prevailing wisdom after a drawn game is that the underdogs have blown their chance, and many will expect the pre-match favourites to prevail the next day.
"That's always said, that's true, but let's see what happens," Cunningham declared.
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