Donegal were humbled by the students of Jordanstown in the opening round of games in the Dr. McKenna Cup in O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny.
The Belfast college were sharper in most departments as they led on five occasions in the opening half and they responded well when going behind early in the second period.
In the end it was Antrim’s CJ McGourty who proved the matchwinner, firing the last four points for UUJ to take them over the line.
Donegal did have plenty of chances in the second period with Dermot Molloy and David Walsh both having goal chances, the latter blazing wide when put through with fifteen minutes left.
The misses proved vital as UUJ powered home while Donegal lost midfielder Neil Gallagher to a second yellow card in the final minutes.
In a lacklustre first half, the sides were level on five occasions with Ciaran Clarke in top shooting form for UUJ while Dermot Molloy kept Donegal in touch with four points.
Jordanstown’s Kieran Hughes at full-forward proved a real handful for All-Star Neil McGee, creating a couple of goal openings, one of which just evaded the inrushing Eoin Waide, early on. Waide and his Naomh Conaill clubmate, Leo McLoone, were among the top performers for the Belfast college.
The students looked sharper than Donegal for most of the opening half as the home side lacked any real punch up front.
Chris Clarke put them ahead on three occasions in the opening 17 minutes but Dermot Molloy (despite missing a number of chances) hit back with two points and Ryan Bradley got the other to leave the sides level. In the final ten minutes of the half Molloy twice cancelled points from Neil McAdam and Ciaran Donnelly to leave the sides locked at 0-5 each at the break.
The introduction of 18-year-old Patrick McBrearty was the spark which saw Donegal go two clear early in the second half, but UUJ kept battling with Diarmuid McNulty and a Ciaran Donnelly free had the sides level again on 51 minutes.
In the next six minutes Donegal had the chance to put the game out of sight as first David Walsh put Dermot Molloy through but UUJ ‘keeper Shane McCormick was quick off his line to block his effort and three minutes later Marty Boyle broke a ball into the path of David Walsh, who was through on goal, but elected to take his shot early with his left and pulled the ball well wide of the target.
It was then that CJ McGourty exploded into the game to make the vital contribution in the final 15 minutes. McGourty punished Donegal from a free on 57 minutes and again from play a minute later. Ryan Bradley, one of Donegal’s best performers, and Dermot Molloy levelled again with seven minutes left, but then McGourty struck for another brace in the 67th and 69th minutes.
Patrick McBrearty worked a good opening in the 70th minute but his shot was saved at the post but given the angle he was coming at, expecting to find the target was a bit optimistic. They had moved big Neil Gallagher to full-forward at this stage but found it hard to get the ball into him. They continued to press again in the final minutes and had a couple of opportunities with Gallagher denied at the expense of a ‘45’ before he picked up a second
Donegal: Peter Boyle; Peter Witherow, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Marty Boyle, Anthony Thompson, Frank McGlynn; Neil Gallagher, Conor McManus; Gary McFadden, Ryan Bradley (0-2), David Walsh; Christy Toye, Stephen Griffin, Dermot Molloy (0-5). Subs., Patrick McBrearty (0-2, 1f) for McManus; Eamonn McGee for Witherow 52; Conor Classon for McFadden; Daniel McLaughlin for Toye, both 55
UUJ: Shane McCormick; Carlus McWilliams, Andrew McClean, Ryan Pickering; Ciaran McGinley, Leo McLoone, Eoin Waide; Niall Donnelly, Neil McAdam (0-1); Chris Clarke (0-3), Ciaran Donnelly (0-2,1f), Conor Sheridan; CJ McGourty (0-4,2f) Kieran Hughes, Diarmuid McNulty (0-1). Subs., Conor Davey for McWilliams ht; Chris Duggan for N Donnelly 37; Paul Devlin for C Donnelly 55
Referee: Martin McErlane (Derry)
Man of the match
A handful of the Donegal players performed well, such as Paddy McGrath, Neil Gallagher and Ryan Bradley, but quite a few struggled. For UUJ Kieran Hughes was outstanding from start to finish, causing big problems at full-forward and also used at midfield in the second half. He gets the nod ahead of CJ McGourty, who proved the matchwinner with his four late points.
The missed goal opportunities by Dermot Molloy and David Walsh were the big turning points from a Donegal point of view. With just three players getting on the scoresheet, those misses were vital.
Derry official Martin McErlane allowed play to flow and both teams picked up on the vibe which meant that frees were limited to the minimum. Despite that the official was always in control and had a good game. He handed out just five yellow cards before Neil Gallagher got a red before the end for an innocuous challenge.