Gaoth Dobhair produced the drama as they snatched a draw with Naomh Conaill in Saturday’s reserve final in O’Donnell Park.
Naomh Conaill 0-17
Gaoth Dobhair 2-11
Four points down and a man down deep into injury time the men in green and white pulled this game out of the proverbial fire and survived to fight another day.
Centre half-back, Michael McKelvey, was the hero on Saturday night after his 62nd minute penalty and pointed free two minutes later tied up the game, for only the second time.
It was a contest that had been dominated for well over three quarters of the way by Naomh Conaill who were chasing a first ever Senior Reserve Championship crown, a crown they looked well on their way to claiming, as they led by ten points, 0-15 to 0-5, at the three quarter mark.
Up to that point with the exception of the opening exchanges there was only one team playing the football in the glorious O’Donnell Park, sunshine. And that was the men in blue and white.
They led by eight, 0-11 to 0-3, at half-time after playing some champagne football in the opening 30 minutes with James Doherty, Joe Kennedy, Conal ‘Ban’ McNelis and Jamie Gallagher in top form. And it was no coincidence either that between them this quartet accounted for all but two of their team’s first half scores.
They other two had come from the boot of impressive wing-back Kevin McGettigan. McGettigan closed out the first half with two injury time strikes out of the top drawer.
Colin Ferry, with the game’s opening score inside 25 seconds; Cian Mulligan, five minutes into the game, and Martin Coll, 25 minutes later, raised the Gaoth Dobhair first half white flags.
The start of the second period went along similar lines. James Doherty, who was outstanding throughout for Naomh Conaill, and Michael McKelvey traded early scores, before Conal ‘Ban’ McNelis made it a nine point game for the first time. That was on 37 minutes and while Manny Gallagher temporarily,reduced the margin, Hugh Gallagher joined the attack to score, for a nine point game once more.
And when shortly afterwards McNelis split the Gaoth Dobhair posts, on 46 minutes, Naomh Conaill were ten in front 0-15 to 0-5 and looking all the world like champions for a first time.
But significantly Gaoth Dobhair boss Steve O’Dea made a number of changes. Veteran Colman McCool was introduced to midfield and Ryan Ferry was added to the attack.
All of a sudden the men and green and white began to win a share of ball around the middle of the park. Jamie Reynolds got on the end of a sweeping move to knock over a point.
And when shortly afterwards James Sweeney slid the ball under the advancing Ronan O’Donnell for the first of the Gaoth Dobhair goals, there was a chink of hope for the men from the west.
But with six points still between the sides, 0-15 to 1-6 and a little over 11 minutes of normal time on the clock, it still looked no more than a salvation of respectability for Gaoth Dobhair.
But two quick fire points from Colin Ferry and Manny Gallagher all in the space of five minutes either side of a Joe Kennedy point reduced the margin with five minutes of normal time remaining.
And that is how it remained until Cian Mulligan was brought down in the area and McKelvey duly dispatched the penalty and followed two minutes later with the leveller with a free from close to 40 metres.
Naomh Conaill: Ronan O’Donnell; Seamus Campbell, Ciaran McHugh, Martin Gallagher; Kevin McGettigan (0-2), Michael O’Malley, Stephen Molloy; Martin Regan, Adrian McGeehin; Jamie Gallagher (0-1), James Doherty (0-4), Jamie McHugh; Michael McLoone. Joe Kennedy (0-6,1f) Conal McNelis (0-3). Subs: Hugh Gallagher (0-1) for M Gallagher (27 inj); Dominic Bonner for M O’Malley h/t; David Gallagher for J McHugh (44); Leonard McDyre for A McGeehan (58); Michael O’Malley for M McLoone (61).
Gaoth Dobhair: Charles John Doherty; Sean ‘Nancy’ Gallagher, Joe Blair, Jamie Reynolds (0-1); Paul Mulligan, Michael McKelvey (1-2,1-0 penalty, 0-2 f), Niall Friel; Stephen Gallagher, Frank McGee; Cian Mulligan (0-1), Martin Coll (0-1), Tiarnan O’Dea; Mannie Gallagher (0-2), James Sweeney (1-0), Colin Ferry (0-3). Subs: Christopher McFadden for Tiernan O’Dea (57); Coilte Boyle for N Friel (34); Colman McCool (0-1) for S Gallagher (38); Ryan Ferry for F McGee (44).
Referee: Andrew Mullan (Killybegs).