A goal from Lee McMonagle in the 50th minute was the decisive score that gave St. Eunan’s their 13th county title in an exciting Donegal senior final in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
St. Eunan’s 1-7
Naomh Conaill 0-9
In the end there was deep, deep disappointment for Naomh Conaill, who looked to be on their way to winning when they led by 0-8 to 0-6 with ten minutes left. At that stage they were dominating proceedings and should have been much further in front.
But once Rory Kavanagh - who was hugely instrumental for the winners in the final quarter - found Ross Wherity with a long ball, the full-forward laid off to young Lee McMonagle and he finished clinically to the corner of the net.
There was plenty of time for further excitement as Daragh Gallagher hit back within a minute to level matters once more with a magnficent point.
Seconds later St. Eunan’s were reduced to 14 when substitute David McGinley was shown a straight red after a clash with Marty Boyle off the ball.
It looked as if Naomh Conaill were back in the ascendancy but then disaster struck in the 58th minute for the Glenties men as a sideline kick by Brendan McDyer was misdirected and went behind for a ‘45’ and Mark McGowan stepped up and powered over what proved to be the winner.
There was still time for Daragh Gallagher to send the game to a replay, but his effort on the stroke of time went just outside the upright at the town end and St. Eunan’s kept possession to play out the two minutes of added time.
Afterwards for many neutrals it was difficult to fathom how Naomh Conaill did not get at least a draw from a game that they completely dominated in the possession stakes. They created two goal chances in the second half with JP Clarke in the St. Eunan’s goal making a great stop from Leo McLoone after 45 seconds of the half and then on 39 minutes, a great run by Daragh Gallagher ended with Leon Thompson through on goal. He seemed to get a nudge as he pulled his shot wide, but no free or penalty was awarded.
Those proved to be crucial misses in what proved to be an absorbing game of football.
In a very evenly contested opening half, Naomh Conaill took a two point lead to the dressingroom thanks to a late burst of scoring with three points in the last six minutes.
St. Eunan’s opened much the brighter with birthday boy John Haran (celebrating his 36th birthday) and Kevin Rafferty prominent. These veterans of the Letterkenny side combined for the opening score, well finished by Lee McMonagle on three minutes.
Naomh Conaill were back on terms three minutes later when Rory Kavanagh was harshly penalised for overcarrying and Daragh Gallagher pointed the free.
Haran’s know-how around midfield led to Conall Dunne putting St. Eunan’s back in the lead and when Cathal Ellis was dispossessed Sean McVeigh struck for another good score.
Naomh Conaill came back into the contest in the second quarter with Eoin Waide particularly prominent and Leon Thompson beginning to find space up front, despite being double teamed.
Brendan McDyer, with a great pass, set up Leon Thompson for Naomh Conaill’s second point and Damien McClafferty, seconds on the field, fouled Thompson for Daragh Gallagher to tie up the game on 21 minutes.
St. Eunan’s went back in front when Kevin Rafferty found Rory Kavanagh in acres of space to point, but in the final minutes of the first half Naomh Conaill owned the ball and they had points from Leo McLoone and Dermot Molloy and Daragh Gallagher pointed after McLoone and Cathal Ellis won frees.
Half-time: Naomh Conaill 0-6, St. Eunan’s 0-4.
Leo McLoone had that goal chance saved by JP Clarke at the start of the second half before Conor Gibbons pointed after Ross Wherity was fouled at the other end.
But Naomh Conaill stretched the lead to three with Dermot Molloy hitting the point of the game from play and Daragh Gallagher adding their eighth on 40 minutes.
In between Leon Thompson had those calls for a penalty turned away.
Mark McGowan hit back with St. Eunan’s point from distance to keep them in touch, before the vital score came for the Letterkenny men on 50 minutes.
Rory Kavanagh launched a high ball to Ross Wherity and he laid off to young McMonagle to put the Letterkenny men in the lead for the first time in the second half.
And even though man of the match Daragh Gallagher levelled immediately, Mark McGowan was to have the final say with his winning ‘45’.
Overall, it was a very good contest. There have to be winners and losers and St. Eunan’s took the scores when they were available and that was the difference.
St. Eunan’s: JP Clarke; Eddie Brennan, Micheal Martin, Conor Parke; Peter Devine, Eamonn Doherty, Mark McGowan (0-2,1’45’; John Haran, Rory Kavanagh (0-1); Lee McMonagle (1-1), Conall Dunne (0-1), Kevin Rafferty; Conor Gibbons (0-1,f), Ross Wherity, Sean McVeigh (0-1). Subs., Damien McClafferty for Brennan 20; David McGinley for Gibbons 42; Kieran Sharkey for Parke 57.
Naomh Conaill: Stephen McGrath; Stephen Molloy, Johnny Bonner, Jason Campbell; Eoin Waide, Thomas Donoghue, Marty Boyle; Leo McLoone (0-1), Anthony Thompson; Cathal Ellis, Brendan McDyer, Daragh Gallagher (0-5,3f); Dermot Molloy (0-2,1f), Johnny McLoone, Leon Thompson (0-1). Sub., John O’Malley for L Thompson 58
Referee: Robbie O’Donnell (Naomh Mhuire)
Man of the match
The award goes to Daragh Gallagher, who was outstanding for the losers but Rory Kavanagh, Mark McGowan and Lee McMonagle were in the mix too.
The goal from McMonagle was a big turning point, but spare a thought for Brendan McDyer and what proved to be the winning ‘45’ for St. Eunan’s. He had played his role to perfection only to be punished for one slack pass.
Robbie O’Donnell let quite an amount go, with St. Eunan’s finding it tough to get frees in the second half, but then Naomh Conaill could have had a penalty, so both sides could have gripes.