Ardara secured their Division 1 status on Friday night with a four-point victory over fellow league strugglers Dungloe in a rain-swept Pearse Memorial Park.
Adrian Brennan’s men can now breathe a collective sigh of relief having preserved their record as the longest serving tenants in Donegal’s football’s top tier for another year. Despite the chilly conditions in Kentucky at the weekend, there was a healthy attendance present for this one given what was at stake for both clubs.
It certainly wasn’t an evening for the purists - and on the evidence presented by the early exchanges - it was obvious that the contest was going to be won in the trenches. It was Dungloe that rolled up the sleeves fasted, edging out to a two-point lead by the twelfth minute thanks in no small part to Adrian Sweeney.
First, the veteran attacker arrowed over a superb opener just 60 seconds in. Then, having rode four zealous efforts by the hosts to dispossess him on the wide left, he teed up Mark Clerkin to double the visitors’ early advantage.
A close range free from Gareth Concarr on the quarter hour mark finally saw Ardara get off the mark. And while they may have laboured towards the midpoint of the first-half, they turned the screw in fine style there after to exit at the interval 1-4 to 0-2 to the good.
A Peter McHugh goal just two minutes after Concarr’s intervention seemed to finally inject a purpose of sorts in home legs, and they rattled off a further three points without replay before referee Connie Doherty signalled for half-time.
Brendan McNelis and Kieran Breslin raised white flags either side of Concarr’s second of the night to put their side five to the good heading in at the break. In between that scoring spurt by Ardara, the heavens opened in spectacular style and the half-time sanctuary of the changing rooms was pursued with a little extra zest by both sets of players.
Just before the whistle, Declan Gavigan excellently thwarted Shaun Sharkey in front of the onion bag after the Dungloe man reacted quickest when the ball came back off the top of Declan Gallagher’s post. On reflection, that intervention was a turning point with Dungloe remaining at a considerable arm’s length.
Half-time: Ardara 1-4, Dungloe 0-2.
Similar to the first period, it was the Rosses men, and Adrian Sweeney in particular, that were quickest out of the blocks. He arced over one of those trademark scores with the left peg inside the first minute of the new half to momentarily rally his side. But despite the introduction of both Conor Greene and David McCarron soon after, the guts of the entire third quarter would elapse before either side would split the posts again.
Once more, it was the familiar silhouette of Adrian Sweeney on the far side of the venue that broke the stalemate to narrow the gap back to just one green flag on a difference of 1-4 to 0-4. It was around about now that things really started to heat up and Connie Doherty certainly had his hands full.
County team-mates Paddy McGrath and Adrian Hanlon had to be dragged off of each other on the floor while others were also trying the Glenties official’s patience.
Proceedings eventually settled and, a full 24 after the restart, Ardara finally got off the mark for the second-half thanks to another Concarr free. Kieran Breslin and Gavin Ward traded points in the dying moments but Ardara deservedly held on as Dungloe remain in danger of slipping through the trap door at the foot of Division 1.
Ardara: Declan Gallagher; Paddy McGrath: Kevin Breslin: Patrick Gallagher; Declan Gavigan: Matthew Maher: Stephen Boyle; Brendan Boyle: Kenneth Doherty; Kieran Breslin (0-2): Shaun McLaughlin: Peter McHugh (1-0); Brendan McNelis (0-1): Gareth Concarr (0-3, 2f): Oisin O’Donnell. Subs: Conor Classon for S. Boyle, Noel Gallagher for P. McHugh, Peter McNelis for K. Doherty.
Dungloe: Ciaran Sharkey; Doalty Boyle: Jamie Sweeney: Jack Scally; Gavin Ward (0-1): Corey Gallagher: Mark Sweeney; Noel McBride: Mark Clerkin (0-1); Mark Forker: Shaun Sharkey: Gerard Walsh; Adrian Hanlon: Adrian Sweeney (0-3, 1f). Subs: Eoin Redmond for M. Forker, Ciaran Greene for B. Malone, David McCarron for S. Sharkey.
Referee: Connie Doherty (Naomh Conaill).