Donegal’s U-16 side have one step in the quarter finals of the inter-league competition after Sunday’s draw with Sligo/Leitrim left them top of their group.
But Anthony Gorman’s side had Ryan Rainey to thank for a dramatic late equaliser when he forced the ball home with barely seconds remaining in normal time.
The result means that Sligo/Leitrim must win by more than three clear goals when they meet Inishowen in the final group game in order to deny Donegal qualification from the group.
In truth, Rainey’s late strike was the least Donegal deserved having been the better side for much of this game. But they almost paid the price for some poor finishing in front of goal. After creating a number of excellent chances, Donegal fell behind with only seven minutes left when Gary Armstrong broke clear, rounded keeper Jason Quinn and fired to the net.
Had Sligo/Leitrim held on for the win, they would have gone level on points at the top of the group with Donegal and needed only to avoid defeat against Inishowen to qualify for the quarter finals. But with time ticking away, Donegal won themselves a free kick wide on the right and while Dale Gorman’s delivery was cleared, the midfielder returned the ball first time back into the danger area and Rainey stole in at the back post to shoot home.
Rainey had been pushed from centre half into attack for the closing minutes as Donegal sought an equaliser. Up until then, he had been part of a Donegal defence that was solid throughout and offered the visitors little in the way of clear-cut openings.
In contrast, Donegal had enjoyed plenty of possession going forward and several goalscoring opportunities. In the first half, Ryan McCloskey and Darragh Black both had efforts saved by keeper, Ryan Blake while Sean Hume shot wide from close range.
Immediately after half time, Donegal continued to press and Dylan Hegarty failed to convert when set up in front of goal.
Donegal introduced Michael Miller for McCloskey and the substitute was only inches away from heading Donegal in front following an excellent delivery from the lively Joe McIntyre. But it was Gary Armstrong who showed how it should be done with a wonderful finish after being sent through on goal by Aaron O’Flynn.
Thankfully for Donegal, there was just enough time left on the watch to snatch an equaliser with Wolves-bound Rainey the goalscoring hero.
Donegal: Jason Quinn, Pauric Ferry, Noah Mailey, Ryan Rainey, Sean Hume, Christopher Flanagan, Ryan McCloskey (Michael Miller 54), Dale Gorman, Dylan Hegarty (Kennedy Boachie 70), Darragh Black, Joe McIntyre.
Sligo/Leitrim: Ryan Blake, Stephen Kearns, Kian Gilmartin, Stephen Connolly, Ryan McManus, Aaron O’Flynn, Mark McCallion (Leigh Currid 51), Darren Kilcaulty, Gary Armstrong, Jason Perry, Ciaran Stenson.
Referee: Packie Coll.
The equaliser which arrived with 15 seconds left in normal time. Donegal pushed everyone up for Dale Gorman’s free kick and while his delivery was headed clear, Gorman sent the ball back into the crowded box. The visiting keeper, Ryan Blake came to deal with an awkward dropping ball and under the challenge of Ryan Rainey at the back post, the ball fell loose and the Donegal No. 4 was able to stab it into the empty net.
The difference between a draw and a defeat, as far as Donegal are concerned, is immense. The result means they are now favourites to qualify from this three-team group and book a place in the quarter finals of the competition. And if that turns out to be the case, Donegal might fancy their chances of going further. They have players to come back into the squad with Jordan Toland, Ciaran McPherson and Cormac Callaghan among those unavailable on Sunday.
Man of the match
There weren’t really any stand-out performances although Sligo/Leitrim’s towering centre half, Ryan McManus was excellent and was a contender for man of the match. For Donegal, Dale Gorman did very well at centre midfield, especially in the second half when he got on the ball a bit more. Joe McIntyre from Donegal Town had a great first half on the left while Noah Mailey at left back and goalscorer Rainey, both impressed.