Sixteen minutes was all it took for Darach O’Connor to seal Donegal’s fourth successive Ulster Vocational Schools’ title in Enniskillen last night.
At Brewster Park against Cavan, O’Connor came off the bench on 43 minutes to score 2-2, as well as making another goal for Jamie Brennan, before getting substituted in the final minute to a standing ovation. Job done.
The side managed by Seosamh McKelvey got the goals at the right times and all three punctured Cavan’s hopes for a possible comeback.
O’Connor, last year’s county minor captain and current senior panellist, came off the bench with Donegal leading 0-11 to 0-9.
Cavan had been closing in with a bright start to the second half but within seconds, O’Connor squared to Brennan to score the opening goal of the match from close range.
When Christian Bonner was given a second yellow card for dissent, it meant Donegal had to endure a testing final quarter.
However, when Cavan came within three, O’Connor slammed home second goal when he followed up his own initial effort to slot home a rebound with eight minutes remaining.
Then, on 58 minutes, Sean Keating slapped home a goal for Cavan to make for a nervous conclusion with Donegal’s lead cut to four.
However, those doubts were soon dispelled as O’Connor burst clear to slam a piercing third goal into the bottom corner.
Donegal’s starting forwards all scored from play and enjoyed a fruitful first half, with John Campbell scoring four times before half-time.
In fact, Donegal might’ve scored a goal within 25 seconds when Ethan O’Donnell set Conor Doherty away.
Cavan were indebted to their goalkeeper Keelan O’Connell for making an instant save.
All but one of Donegal’s first half total came from play and by the changing of ends, the north-westerners were in a reasonably comfortable position with a double-score, 0-8 to 0-4, advantage.
Cavan soon reduced their arrears from five to two when Conor Bradley scored twice and Cathal Maguire was also on the mark.
Donegal, through, kept their noses in front, although Bradley was having a fine game in the No 11 shirt for Cavan.
But whatever doubts there were creeping in, they soon eradicated into the night air when O’Connor came so spectacularly from the bench with his whirlwind impact.
The win means Donegal have now won the title on 15 occasions, with only Tyrone on 18 ahead of them in the provincial roll of honour.
Donegal: Paddy Byrne; Dylan Kennedy, Kevin McGettigan, John McDyre; Lee O’Brien, Tony McClenaghan, Darren Curran (0-1); Dylan Ward, Caolan McGettigan; Christian Bonner (0-1), John Campbell (0-4, 1f), Conor Doherty (0-1); David McCarron (0-1), Ethan O’Donnell (0-1), Jamie Brennan (1-2). Subs: Niall Friel for O’Brien (37), Darach O’Connor (2-2) for Ward (43), Fintan O’Flynn for O’Connor (59), Caolan Loughrey for Brennan (60).
Cavan: Kealan O’Connell; Joseph O’Connell, Cormac Daly, Dean McCarthy; Andrew Cusack-Smith, Mark Magee, Eoin Sommerville (0-1); Sean McDermott, Conor Flanagan; Cathal Maguire (0-1), Conor
Bradley (0-3, 1f), Sean Reilly (0-1); Bryan Magee (0-1), Evan Doughty (0-2), Adam O’Reilly (0-2, 1f). Subs: Gary Tiernan for O’Connell (22), Benjamin Kelly for Flanagan (half-time), Noel Lynch (0-1) for McCarthy (41), James Brady (0-1) for Maguire (42), Sean Keating (1-0) for Doughty (57).
Referee: Dermot Love (Fermanagh)