St Eunan’s fighting spirit once again protruded - this time in the Pat McLarnon Cup Ulster U-21 quarter-final win over St Peter’s from Warrenpoint.
St Eunan’s 1-8
St Peter’s, Warrenpoint 0-9
Almost three minutes into injury time at the end of normal time at Creggan in Antrim, Noel Keaveney’s docket looked a beaten one.
The St Eunan’s manager had seen his side not make the most of a gusty, yet awkward first half gale at their backs to go in at half-time 0-4 to 0-2 up.
Conor O’Donnell was frequently on the ball to drive his team on from deep. He cancelled out Conor Cole’s opener for St Peter’s and then Lee McMonagle scored for St Eunan’s after Jamie Grant had for the Down champions.
St Eunan’s were punting in ball but not entirely at ease with their own approach. Although they kicked eight wides, Odhran McGinley and Michael Miller did register to establish that two-point interval lead that few thought would suffice.
Perversely, the Letterkenny side performed better when facing the wind and maintained their cushion, at 0-6 to 0-4, with just 10 minutes remaining.
Carrying possession in hand was a policy that St Eunan’s were much more comfortable with.
When Niall McGovern opened the second half scoring for St Peter’s, Rory Carr replied for St Eunan’s. Cole then was on the mark as was O’Donnell.
However, St Peter’s, whose senior side are Ulster Intermediate champions with an All-Ireland semi-final in Portlaoise on Sunday, January 25, against Munster champions Ardfelt from Kerry, were always dangerous.
They chipped away and when McGovern pointed a controversially awarded free, Donagh McAleenan leveled the scores at 0-6 apiece with eight minutes to go.
The alarm bells were ringing for St Eunan’s and goalkeeper Sean Daffan kept them at parity with a save from James Murdock’s effort.
McGovern’s 45 was veering off to the left only for Aaron Magee to swing a punch and point. St Peter’s were in front, 0-7 to 0-6, and just three minutes remained.
St Eunan’s had to push but be patient. They passed up three chances to level.
The punishment probably superseded the crime and Cole and Christopher Monaghan pointed in the first minute of injury time to give St Peter’s a 0-9 to 0-6 lead.
Aaron D’Arcy then shot wide when the insurance point was on, although it seemed to matter little.
In the Donegal U-21 championship final, St Eunan’s had battled back from seven points down with eight minutes to play to deny Kilcar 3-12 to 1-15 when Sean Hume scored a 63rd minute goal.
Hume, who scored 2-6 in that final and 4-24 in St Eunan’s run domestically, was an absentee on Saturday due to a family holiday. Connall O’Boyle and John Foley were also ruled out.
Few gave St Eunan’s remnants any hope with essentially one play left. But Miller derived some space down the right and his centre was perfect and McMonagle slammed a goal past Conor D’Arcy in St Peter’s goal.
It was like musical chairs but when the music stopped both teams were still sitting.
St Eunan’s 1-6 to St Peter’s 0-9, which meant extra-time.
Playing with the wind again, St Eunan’s were more measured in their approach. They proved to be learning from their own mistakes and Darragh Mulgrew shot them into a one-point lead by the changing of ends.
In the second half, with limbs tiring, Conor Morrison shipped a firm but fair hit but still set up Jordan McBride to double St Eunan’s advantage.
Rory Carr was black carded and dismissed having been yellow carded earlier and Daffan was struggling with a groin injury but still managed to get a vital touch on Murdock’s late chance.
Oisin Carr answered St Eunan’s players when he claimed two Hail Marys into the square - the final acts in a compelling drama.
St Eunan’s: Sean Daffan, Colm Flood, Daire McMonagle; Barry McGeehin; Conor O’Donnell (0-2), Conor Parke, Conor Morrison; Oisin Carr, Darragh Mulgrew (0-1); Jordan O’Dowd, Jordan McBride (0-1), Odhran McGinley (0-1); Lee McMonagle (1-1), Rory Carr (0-1,1f), Michael Miller (0-1). Subs: Thomas Grant for Flood (half-time), David Tyrrell for O’Dowd (50), Darragh McWalters for Miller (full-time), Daniel Gillespie for McGeehin (67), Miller for McMonagle (71), Conor McEniff for Morrison (78).
St Peter’s, Warrenpoint: Conor D’Arcy; Cormac McCartan, Miceal O’Hare, Sean Gallagher; Ryan Magee, Ciaran McCartan, Patrick Murdock; Jamie Grant (0-1), Caolan McLaughlin; Aaron Magee (0-1), Donagh McAleenan (0-1), Frank Aiken (0-1); Niall McGovern (0-2,1f), Conor Austin, Conor Cole (0-3,1f). Subs: Aaron D’Arcy for Austin (half-time), James Murdock for Ciaran McCartan (39), Stephen Monaghan for R Magee (50), Anton Magill for P Murdock (73).
Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim)