If ever there was a case of a team getting stuck in the blocks then St Eunan’s Pat MacLarnon Ulster U-21 semi-final was it on Sunday.
St Eunan’s 0-5
St Joseph’s, Cavan 3-5
Noel Keaveney saw his side go down, in the end, to a comprehensive defeat against St Joseph’s from Cavan.
The disappointing thing for the St Eunan’s manager will be the fact his team showed little of their capabilities.
The Letterkenny outfit conceded two early goals and were always chasing St Joseph’s tail.
And although St Eunan’s have dug themselves out of a hole or two this season, on Sunday the well ran dry.
In the county final in December, St Eunan’s came from seven points down against a star-studded Kilcar team to win 3-12 to 1-15.
And on their last visit to Kickhams Creggan GAC for the Ulster U-21 Tournament quarter-final five weeks ago, a three-point injury time deficit was overturned against St Peter’s from Warrenpoint.
Following that 1-8 to 0-9 extra-time win, some of the St Eunan’s staff and management joked that they’d prefer to make life occasionally easier for themselves.
That certainly wasn’t the case back at the Antrim venue on a Sunday afternoon that was so cold you wouldn’t have wanted to have forgotten your jacket.
St Joseph’s, who are a concoction of Arva, Drumlane and Killeshandra, manufactured an early cushion.
Michael Miller was unfortunate to see a first minute pop at a point come within a whisker of a goal when it clipped Joe Masterson’s post.
However, from a seventh minute St Joseph’s grasped control with a long ball from Conor McGearty getting hung up in the wind and Donal O’Reilly winning the race against Conor Harley to punch home.
It was unfortunate for the otherwise impressive Harley, who was keeping goal instead of Sean Daffan, who failed to recover from a calf injury.
Just seven minutes later, St Joseph’s goaled again when Harley saved from Ryan Connolly only for Conal Sheridan to steer home from the floor and from close range.
St Eunan’s battled on and despite the setbacks could’ve been further behind than the 2-1 to 0-3 deficit they had at the break.
A Sean Hume free, Conor O’Donnell’s point and an effort from Conor Parke that ripped through the wind helped St Eunan’s get back to within some sort of reach.
Hume didn’t emerge for the second half and was replaced by John Foley.
St Joseph’s tactics were obvious but effective as they played counter-attacking football.
Therefore, St Eunan’s had the bulk of possession but time and again they failed to take their opportunities when they arose and were occasionally picked off.
When they were, St Joseph’s were excellent on the break. Despite being starved of possession they scored four of the first five points of the second period.
Kevin Bouchier, who nailed three points for Cavan in last year’s Ulster U-21 final win over Maxi Curran’s Donegal, kicked two points and McCabe also showed his abilities in front of the posts.
Miller did hit two scores late in the match and Masterson, the St Joseph’s goalkeeper, was fortunate to see another Miller effort slip through his grasp only to fall wide of the post.
With St Eunan’s pushing on in an attempt to keep their faint heart beating, McCabe found a pocket of space top of the right. Normally, he might’ve opted to merely use the fist to punch over.
But with time almost up and realising he was in complete bonus territory, McCabe took his chance on goal.He managed to drive past Harley to seal the nine-point victory and a final place against Watty Graham’s from Derry this coming weekend.
St Eunan’s: Conor Harley; Conor Parke (0-1), Daire McMongle; Conor Morrison; Jordan McBride, Conor O’Donnell (0-1), Odhran McGinley; Oisin Carr, Darragh Mulgrew; Barry McGeehin, Lee McMonagle, Rory Carr; Michael Miller (0-2,1f), Sean Hume (0-1,1f), Jordan O’Dowd. Subs: John Foley for Hume (half-time), Conor McEniff for O’Dowd (52).
St Joseph’s: Joe Masterson; Cormac McCabe, Donal Monahan, Francis Lunney; Paul Bouchier, Ciaran Brady, Conor O’Reilly; Aaron Brady, Kian Monahan; Donal O’Reilly (1-0), Kevin Bouchier (0-2), Conor McGearty; Ryan Connolly, Conal Sheridan (1-1), Jonathan McCabe (1-2). Subs: Sean Smith for McGearty (44), Declan Lunney for D O’Reilly (58).
Referee: Kieran Trainor (Down).