Naomh Conaill’s U-14 side created a little piece of club history when they won the Division One county championship title at the age bracket for the first time after a titanic victory over St Eunan’s at a sundrenched Sean MacCumhaill Park.
Naomh Conaill 5-8
St Eunan’s 2-13
Martin Regan’s team were certainly the dominant force in the first half, going in 3-5 to 0-6 up at the break but when the Letterkenny side came back to level in the second period it was anyone’s game. However, Naomh Conail, in sweltering heat, steadied themselves and kept their cool to reassert themselves and come through in the end.
By the 16th minute the boys in blue had forced a sizable lead, 2-5 to 0-2. The main building blocks of that advantage came courtesy of a goal from Ryan Hunter on nine minutes when he was fed by Danny Gallagher, and a second goal on 16 when Jack McKelvey netted after Gallagher had nipped the ball from St Eunan’s full-back Conor McWilliams.
Points were also scattered throughout by Manus McDyer, Nathan Byrne, Jack Flannery, Gallagher and Kealan McMonagle, which meant even at that early juncture of just 20 minutes, all six of Naomh Conaill’s front six had scored from play – an impressive stat indeed.
St Eunan’s had actually opened the scoring through a free-kick from in front of the posts by Patrick McColgan before the lively Eoin McGeehin was also on the mark. They doubled their tally facing into the Town end goals when Niall Hannigan was on the mark before another McColgan free.
It was, though, a first half that belonged to Naomh Conaill and they finished it strongly. A third goal arrived through Jack McKelvey, when he smashed past Ronan McGeehin after he was found in space by McDyer.
St Eunan’s popped over the final two scores of the half through Shaun Curran and Hannigan, but that adage about goals winning matches had taken Naomh Conaill halfway there as they were 3-5 to 0-6 ahead at half-time.
That sizable gap between the teams might’ve suggested it was time to put the blue and white ribbons on the cup. Underage football has a habit of turning on its head and that was certainly the case in Ballybofey.
Ardara had actually won the Southern Divisional title with a comprehensive 4-19 to 2-6 win over Naomh Conaill. In the semi-final, the side from Pearse Park were nine points up on St Eunan’s with just six minutes remaining before the most remarkable of comebacks saw the team from the Cathedral Town winning 5-12 to 2-11 in extra-time.
Coming back from the dead like that certainly gave St Eunan’s reason to believe and they soon forced their way back into the contest. McColgan pointed his third free before St Eunan’s first goal was superbly crafted and finished with a give-and-go between Jerome Angel Atuahene finishing off a pass from Matthew McGovern on 34 minutes.
Two more points instantly followed, through Alexander Tinney and then McGovern to leave just three between them. And 11 minutes into the second half St Eunan’s who trailed by 10 points at a stage before the break, levelled when McGovern tucked into the empty net when Tinney put the chance his way.
At that point, 43 minutes, a betting man might well have been edging towards St Eunan’s. However, seconds later Hunter came within inches of scoring his side’s first of the second half when he lamped a vicious shot that rattled the crossbar before pointing himself as St Eunan’s struggled to clear.
Naomh Conaill weren’t to be denied. Kealan McGill gobbled up a kick-out and captain Flannery goaled – his side’s fourth of the evening - on 44 minutes. Then, after Flannery also hit the ‘bar when going for goal seconds later, Gallagher also found the net to give Naomh Conaill a 5-6 to 2-13 lead.
McColgan, for St Eunan’s, and Naomh Conaill’s Flannery swapped points before three points for those in black and amber closed the gap once again – Conor O’Donnell, McColgan and Hannigan were the scorers. That meant Naomh Conaill were 5-7 to 2-13 up and Jack McKelvey provided what many thought was the insurance point with time already in whatever was allowed for stoppages.
But St Eunan’s pressed hard for a goal in the dying embers and Oisin McKelvey in the Naomh Conaill made a brave double save later on to preserve the lead before Conor Breslin cleared off the line from Aaron Deeney. It was a dramatic finish but what else was to be expected after such a dramatic game?
Naomh Conaill: Oisin McKelvey; Shane McDevitt, Cian Doherty, Conor Breslin; Keelan McGill, Odhran Doherty, Oran McDevitt; Ryan Hunter (1-1), David Moore; Jack McKelvey (2-1), Nathan Byrne (0-1), Kealan McMonagle (0-1); Jack Flannery (1-2, 1f), Manus McDyer (0-1), Danny Gallagher (1-1).
St Eunan’s: Ronan McGeehin; Aaron Deeney, Conor McWalters, Ryan Hilferty; Michael Mcgraory, Shane Maguire, Donal Farren; Alexander Tinney (0-1), Jerome Angel Atuahene (1-0); Shaun Curran (0-3), Patrick McColgan (0-5, 5f), Eoin McGeehin (0-1); Darragh Morrison, Eoin O’Boyle, Matthew McGovern (1-0). Subs: Niall Hannigan (0-3), Conor O’Donnell (0-1), Sean Ryan.
Referee: Shane Toolan.