Just 24 hours after winning the Donegal title, Cloughaneely pushed themselves to the limit in a heroic performance at Owenbeg, coming from seven points behind to win an Ulster Club IFC thriller in extra-time.
(after extra time)
They trailed by 2-7 to 1-4 at half-time, but after clawing their way back to level it at 2-11 each, they pushed on in added time, despite the pain of exhausted bodies.
“We had nothing to lose, we were underdogs coming in, having to play less than 24 hours later,” said manager Joe McGarvey.
“I’m very proud of the lads, they put in a great performance, after being six points down in the second half, to come back and draw level, then to come back and win in after extra-time it’s unbelievable, a great result.”
Cloughaneely led for a brief spell after John Fitzgerald slotted over a fifth minute free to add to Denis Boyle’s tidy opener.
With Darren McKeever and Martin Maguire working hard around the middle and Fitzgerald a threat in the front line, the Donegal champions competed well throughout the opening quarter.
Conor Scullion landed a frfee and Aidan Bradley slipped past two defenders to clip over a neat score as the Oak Leafers eased into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead.
But there were signs at this stage that fatigue was beginning to take its toll on a Cloughaneely team that had endured a frantic schedule.
Yawning gaps opened up in their defence as Aidan McElhone collected Ruairi Shivers’ return pass to drill home an 18th minute goal.
Six minutes later, the St Malachy’s hit the net for a second time. Shivers was fouled and referee Noel Mooney awarded a penalty, which Aidan Bradley blasted to the roof of the net.
Connor Scullion and Paddy Henry hit back to put Castledawson into a 2-7 to 1-4 interval lead, but a heroic second half showing saw the Tir Chonail men battle their way back into the game.
Denis Boyle was the man with the golden left boot, hitting a succession of scores as Cloughaneely took the game to their opponents.
McKeever, Boyle and Fitzgerald all hit the target as the narrowed the gap to four points in the opening ten minutes of the second half.
But with McKeever working hard to create openings, Cloughaneely hit back and were rewarded with a 28th minute goal, albeit assisted by a touch of good fortune.
Martin O’Kane lost his footing and Fitzgerald nipped in to gather and slot the ball past Neil O’Kane.
The home side led by 2-7 to 1-4 at half-time, but Cloughaneely dug deep to work their way through the pain barrier and make a real game of it after the break.
Points from McKeever, Boyle and Fitzgerald trimmed back the deficit, and even after Aidan McElhone and centre back Paddy Henry responded with points, it was the newly crowned Donegal champions who played all the football, carrying the ball with composure from defence, with Declan McGarvey and Kevin McFadden getting through some terrific work.
Boyle sent over a couple of late points, including a ’45, but it looked as if they were going to fall short when they trailed by two points as the game slipped into stoppage time.
But Boyle’s long ball was flicked by Fitzgerald into the path of John McGarvey, who fired low to the net for a sensational score.
Castledawson levelled in the 63rd minute through Aidan McElhone, and at 2-11 each, they headed into extra-time.
Boyle and wing back Declan McGarvey eased Cloughaneely into a 2-13 to 2-11 interval lead, and they held their opponents scoreless, sealing it with Boyle’s eighth in the dying moments.
Castledawson scorers: Aidan McElhone 1-2, Aidan Bradley 1-1 (1-0 pen), Connor Scullion 0-3, Niall NcNicholl (1 free), Paddy Henry (1f) 0-2 each, Aidan Keenan 0-1.
Cloughaneely scorers: John Fitzgerald 1-3 (0-3f), John McGarvey 1-0, Denis Boyle 0-8, 3f, 1 ’45), Darren McKeever 0-2, Declan McGarvey 0-1 (f)
Castledawson: Neil O’Kane, Danny Devlin, Martin O’Kane, Niall Keenan, Michael Hicks, Paddy Henry, Kieran O’Kane, Aidan McElhone, Declan Lavery, Aidan Bradley, Niall McNicholl, Colum Lavery, Ruairi Shivers Aidan Keenan, Connor Scullion. Subs: Ciaran Lavery for Hicks, Joe O’Kane for A Bradley, A Bradley for Lavery
Cloughaneely: Sean McClafferty, Cian McFadden, Kevin McFadden, Martin Ferry, Kevin Mulhern, Conor McGee, Declan McGarvey, Martin Maguire, Ciaran Scanlon, Paddy Cannon, Denis Boyle, Darren McKeever, John McGarvey, Shaun Maguire, John Fitzgerald. Subs: Cillian Gallagher for M Maguire, Eamon Curran for Cannon, Shaun McGarvey for S Maguire, S Maguire for McGarvey, Michael Lynch for Mulhern
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan).