Glenea United bridged an eight-year gap to win the Brian McCormick Sports Premier Division after a penalty shoot-out victory over neighbours Gweedore Celtic on Sunday at a wintery Diamond Park.
Glenea United 1
Gweedore United 1
(After extra-time – Glenea won 4-2 on penalties)
Goalkeeper Shane McClafferty was the hero in the penalty competition with saves from Kevin Friel and Fionnan Diver, while Barry McGinley, Donal Coll, Ryan McFadden and Patrick McGee were flawless in their execution from 12 yards after David Ward had cancelled out Darren McGeever’s opener in the match itself.
The conditions certainly made it awkward for the two outstanding teams in the division and there was a considerable variance in the tactics from one 45 minutes to the next. Glenea were minus Kevin Mulhern, who is in Boston for the summer, but the team captain’s voice was present in the dressingroom beforehand as he relayed his best wishes over the telephone on loud speaker.
Tom Coll’s Glenea side played with the elements in the first period and after prividing a lot of pressure, led 1-0 at the interval thanks to McGeever’s well taken goal on 18 minutes.
Following a pass by McFadden into the inside left channel, McGeever robbed full-back Jamie Boyle and curled precisely into the bottom corner with the outside of his left foot from 10 yards.
It was the first real incident of note but gave Glenea, who had taken four points from six against Gweedore in the regular season, something to hold onto. However, such was the gale at their backs Glenea pushed on incessantly as Gweedore were penned in for long periods.
Eight corners were dealt with, though, by Michael McKelvey and his defensive comrades as the more advanced players were essentially forced to live off scraps at the other end of the field. Tómas Diver did force a save from McClafferty in a rare attack and Fionnan Diver shot wide.
At the other end, on 41 minutes, McFadden stubbed a Patrick McGee free just wide after the central defender’s wind-assisted free was allowed to perilously bounce in the Gweedore penalty area.
At half-time it was harder to know which set of players would’ve been happier. Although Hughie Rua Gallagher’s side trailed they would inevitably have the bulk of the second half play as Glenea knew the onslaught was coming.
Having survived the successive first half corners Gweedore scored direct from their first of the game, 11 minutes into the second half. Ward, who took over some of the deliveries of placed balls as a result of Gary Whoriskey’s absence due to work commitments in Dubai, swung in a corner that deceived McClafferty and flew straight in.
With over half an hour left to play, the betting man might’ve edged his stake onto Gweedore, chasing a second successive league and cup double, following their Brian McCormick Sport Cup final victory over Donegal Town at the same venue two weeks beforehand.
Glenea, though, weren’t in complete defensive mode and their breaks carried threat, as was emphasised when McFadden furrowed into a little corridor of opportunity but his effort was stopped by McKelvey.
Gweedore continued on the front foot and McClafferty took two bites to smother a dangerous ball in from Fionnan Diver and Ferry was narrowly of target. David McGee, at the other end, blocked bravely from McFadden after the Glenea striker had cut inside to latch onto Michael Barry pass in the final minutes.
Gweedore came even closer to a late winner when Fionnan Diver failed to get sufficient purchase in a crowded area and the game went into extra-time, where chances were few and far between as limbs wearied on a heavy pitch in driving rain.
McClafferty made one great save in the dying embers to deny Tómas Diver and would repeat the heroics in the shoot-out. It’s a tough way to decide a league after the respective slogs and there was little or nothing between the two teams, over the campaign or on the day. He saved from Friel, after a Jerzy Dudek impression dancing on the goalline but was beaten by Eugene McBride and Paul Rua McBride. Glenea just kept scoring, though, and when McClafferty saved from Fionnan Diver the championship was won and his team were singing in the rain.
Glenea United: Shaune McClafferty; Kevin McFadden, Patrick McGee, Paul Sweeney, Barry McGinley; Sean Coll (John Harely 95), Shaun Maguire, Brian Cuffe, Michael Barry (Donal Coll 91); Darren McGeever, Ryan McFadden.
Gweedore Celtic: Michael McKelvey; Jamie Boyle (Kevin Friel 109), Paul Rua McBride, David McGee, David Ward; Damien O’Sullivan, Eamonn Cannon, Eugene McBride, Colin Ferry (Ciaran McFadden 83); Fionnan Diver, Tómas Diver.
Referee: Mick Lagan.