Down's camogs found themselves in a similar position to defeated senior counterparts Kilkenny after the All-Ireland finals, left fuming at what they believe were some poor refereeing decisions, with Sarah-Louise Carr dismissed at a crucial stage of the second half.
Reacting in the immediate aftermath to their Intermediate final loss to Cork, Down manager Martina Rooney grumbled: “There are no words right now.
“We were going well in fits and starts. We seemed to get things a lot tougher than the opposition. They were getting maybe frees a lot easier than we were.
“As for the sending off… It’ll be interesting to see that again. I don’t think either one of them were yellow cards, not to mind the second one — I thought it was a free for us. A yellow card offence, most definitely not.
“We never gave up, we fought to the bitter end and kept at it. I suppose Dearbhla (Magee) going off (with a blood injury) unsettled us a wee bit. We had come out of the blocks really well.”
Down were bidding to reverse a poor league campaign, in which they had to win a play-off against Kildare to stay up, but things started to turn for the good when Rooney took over as manager in mid-season.
After winning the Ulster Championship by beating Derry, they beat the same Cork side in the All-Ireland Championship group stages by 12 points, but this game had taken on a very different shade after they jumped into an early lead.
Playing with the wind in the first half, Down showed great intent from the off. Rooney had moved captain Fionnuala Carr up into the full-forward line where she partnered sister Sarah-Louise, while Naomh Mallon was moved out to become more involved in the half-forward line.
In Fionnuala Carr’s absence, Dearbhla Magee moved into centre-back and the tall Ballygalget girl was immense until a bad fall forced her off for a blood sub on 15 minutes.
Sarah-Louise Carr opened the scoring with one from range after skipping inside two challenges and after Amy McAleenan produced a mazy run through the heart of the Cork defence, Fionnuala Carr dished off to Saoirse Sands to put Down two up.
Their lead was wiped by two Saoirse McCarthy points. She is just out of minor camogie but showed she will be a senior star for years to come with her excellent touch and speed, while her striking was the best on show.
Naomh Mallon added two more points for Down, converting a free she was fouled by Laura Callanan herself before an inspirational effort from close to 60 metres. Paula Gribben then stepped up with a straightforward point to leave the Mourne girls 0-5 to 0-2 up.
That was as good as it got, however. Catherine Collins contributed three points, two of them from the dead ball and Caroline Surgue finally got her eye in after a number of early misses. The first half drew to a close with an excellent catch, run and strike on the run by Saoirse McCarthy and left the Rebellettes 0-7 to 0-5 in front at the break.
Down opened the second half brightly with the first two scores, a Mallon free followed by a lovely movement down the Hogan Stand side and pointed at the Davin End by Saoirse Sands to level it again.
But Cork began to take control and after having put so much into the first half, it was inevitable that the Down effort would fade.
Two Catriona Collins frees gave them a platform and Sugrue made it three before the game’s decisive score.
From Maria McNally’s puckout, it was fielded by Siobhan Hutchinson and after Fionnuala Neville rounded Dearbhla Magee she was able to offload the perfect handpass to Catriona Collins, who lashed to the net.
Down needed a goal, but against a side who hadn’t conceded a single goal this year, that was always going to be a huge task.
A hard day was made even worse by the unfair sending off of Sarah-Louise Carr. She fastened onto a loose ball and when she came to straightening up Jennifer Barry was straight in front of her. Inevitably, contact came, but referee John Dermody decided it was worthy of a second yellow card.
From then on, the result was never in doubt, despite the best efforts of Naomh Mallon, who was by some distance Down’s most involved and dangerous player, but who struggled against a wind in the second half.
The game ebbed away from Down, but their gutsy challenge deserved more in the way of fair play while the dismissal of Carr was most unfortunate.
“I’m incredibly proud of the girls,” added Rooney.
“I couldn’t ask any more of them. Not all fairytales have happy endings. To be here and part of it is amazing. We’ll not appreciate it today, but the girls will look back on this and learn from it and come back stronger.”