If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again is the old saying. And it certainly paid off for St Naul’s on Sunday in Tirconaill Park as they overcame Naomh Columba to finally get their hands on the Cathal McLaughlin Cup.
St. Naul’s 1-5
Naomh Columba 0-3
It may not have been the best Intermediate final ever played and the quality of the football was not of the premium variety, but that does not bother them this week in the parish of Inver. St. Naul’s are at last Donegal Intermediate champions for the very first time having failed on their six previous finals over the last two decades.
The outpouring of joy and emotion from the green and white carrying supporters as they teamed out on to Tir Chonaill Park, at Shaun McLaughlin’s final whistle said it all. St. Naul’s supporters at last were on cloud nine.
Every man, woman and child in Mountcharles, Frosses and Inver must have been on the field afterwards and beaming from ear to ear as the rejoiced with their heroes.
St. Naul’s led by five points, 1-3 to 0-1, at half-time having played into a strong wind and in reality laid the foundation for this famous victory in the opening 30 minutes.
They had five points to spare at the finish despite a spirited Naomh Columba revival which saw them being reduced to 14 early in the final quarter after wing back Clement O’Gara picked up a second yellow card for a high challenge on Eddie Gallagher.
St. Naul’s ace marksman Stephen Griffin once again stepped up to the plate in a big way. The county man scored all of his side’s five points – all but one from frees with three in the first half and two in the second - and he also played a big part in the game’s decisive score, the goal, despite being doubled marked for most of the hour, as Pauric Coyle struck for the St. Naul’s goal.
Michael Byrne, from a free in the first half and veterans Pauric Gillespie and Noel McGinley – both in the final quarter- kicked the Naomh Columba points.
With the burden of those six defeats weighing heavy on St. Naul’s shoulders, the winners looked nervous early on and it took top drawer save from Shane Leonard to deny Dermot McGuire a Naomh Columba goal inside two minutes.
But with Conal and Fiachra McGinley getting the upper-hand around midfield, Griffin raised his first white flag of the day when he converted from 20 metres after Shane Conneely was fouled.
He converted a second free six minutes later, this time from 30 metres after he was tugged off the ball by his marker Michael Maguire.
Leading 0-2 to 0-0, St. Naul’s struck for the game’s decisive score when Griffin got on the end of a line ball from Aidan Kennedy, before setting up Pauric Coyle who had stole in behind the defence. With only Pauric O’Donnell to beat, Coyle held his nerve to stroke the ball under the advancing keeper and a 1-2 to 0-0 lead for St. Naul’s. The goal, however, was not without controversy as referee Shaun McLaughlin overruled his linesman to award the line ball that led to the score to St. Naul’s. In fairness to the official Naomh Columba did not seem to protest too much.
The goal really set the winners on their way and while Michael Byrne from 13 metres got Naomh Columba off the mark shortly afterwards, Griffin had the final say of the half to send his side in 1-3 to 0-1 in front at the break.
Scores may have been at a premium in the opening 30 minutes. But they were none too plentiful in the second half either as both added two each to their tally over the second 30 minutes.
Griffin got St. Naul’s first within two minutes of the re-start to stretch the lead out to six points when he polished off a sweeping move with his only score from play. He made it a seven point game ten minutes later, this time from a 45 metre free.
In between, Declan McGuire came desperately close to scoring a Naomh Columba goal only to be denied by another top drawer stop from Shane Leonard.
While St. Naul’s squandered a number of gilt edged chances and did not score again in the closing 20 minutes, Naomh Columba only fared marginally better.
Pauric Gillespie on 47 minutes, after being released by Noel Hegarty, split the posts from 40 metres and Noel McGinley scored the other with a minute left on the clock.
But alas it was not enough on a day that Naomh Columba failed to fire and not even the introduction of veteran Noel Hegarty could inspire them to another big comeback.
However, on a day their opponents did not translate their possession into scores, if Naomh Columba had put away at least one of their two goal chances, it could have made for a more interesting finish.
St. Naul’s: Shane Leonard; John Rose, Gavin Maguire, Conor McBrearty; Stuart Johnston, Daniel Friel, Aidan Kennedy; Conal McGinley, Fiachra McGinley; Shane Conneely, Danny McDyre, Pauric Coyle (1-0); Cathal Lowther, Stephen Griffin (0-5, 4f), Barry Griffin. Subs: Eddie Gallagher for P. Coyle (h/t); Mark Ward for S. Johnston (40, inj); Andrew Gallagher for C. Lowther (58); Jamie White for S. Conneely (59).
Naomh Columba: Pauric O’Donnell; Barry Carr, Kieran McBrearty, Martin Cunningham; Clement O’Gara, Noel McGinley (0-1), Kevin ‘Beag’ Gillespie; Michael Maguire, Andrew O’Gara; Declan McGuire, Oisin McGinley, Dermot McGuire; Michael Byrne (0-1,1f), Pauric Gillespie (0-1), Darragh O’Donnell. Sub: Noel Hegarty for Dermot McGuire (h/t).
Referee: Shaun McLaughlin (Malin)
Man of the match
Stephen Griffin was doubled marked for most of the game and may have found space hard to find. Yet, he kicked five points, four of them from frees and also played a lead role in the game’s only goal when he spotted Pauric Coyle in space behind the Naomh Columba defence.
He wins the man of the match despite the claims of Shane Conneely, Danny McDyre, Pauric Coyle, Conal McGinley, Gavin Maguire Daniel Friel, Conor McBrearty and Stuart Johnston, all who turned in top class performances. St. Naul’s keeper, Shane Leonard, for his two point blank saves one in each half, also has to get a special mention.
All of Naomh Columba’s performers were in defence where Kieran McBrearty, Martin Cunningham, Michael Maguire and Noel McGinley, had exceptional games and played a major role restricting the champions to just a goal and five points.
It had to be Pauric Coyle’s goal early in the second quarter which stretched the St. Naul’s lead out to five points, 1-2 to 0-0.
Wing forward Coyle, kept his cool when sent free by Stephen Griffin with only the goal-keeper to beat to coolly slot the ball under the advancing Pauric O’Donnell.
Shaun McLaughlin flashed five yellow cards and one red card in what was not an overly physical game. Three of the yellows were to St. Naul’s – Stuart Johnston, Conal McGinley, Mark Ward – and two were to Naomh Columba’s Clement O’Gara, who also picked up an automatic red.
Shaun tended to let the game go which often resulted in the player who was being fouled gaining no advantage and more often than not either losing possession or being pulled up for holding on too long.