Donegal retained their All-Ireland U-21C hurling crown following this afternoon’s eleven point victory over Fermanagh in Omagh.
It was not pretty and it was far from a polished Donegal performance. But there was no denying they were better side and the winning margin in the end did in no way flatter the Donegal men.
Donegal started with seven of that team that defeated Tyrone to win last year’s final in Celtic Park,.
Dylan Lafferty, Donal McLaughlin, Ciaran Rami, Steven Doherty, Sean Curran, Aaron McCauley and Conor O’Grady were all on board last season under Paddy Flood to become the first winners of the Andrew O’Neill Cup. Eddie Lynch missed last year’s final through injury.
The reigning champions did all the early pressing and Aaron McCauley had three ‘65s’ drop short before Paul Nelson hit the game’s opening score.
That was on 12 minutes and Donegal were 0-3 to 0-0 up by the end of the first quarter thanks to two quick points from McCauley, one from a free after Conor Grant was fouled.
Fermanagh had their first point from full forward Conor McShea after the number 14 turned Donal McLaughlin before he knocked over from 20 metres.
And Fermanagh were back in the game in a big way when Conor Goodwin first timed to the Donegal net for the game’s opening goal.
But Donegal went in one up at half-time, 0-5 to 1-1, thanks to a late Steven Doherty point.
Donegal got off to a flying start on the resumption as they hit 1-3 in the space of six minutes to open up a 1-7 to 1-1 advantage. .
Sam Doherty got on the end of a brilliant move involving Sean Curran and Paul Nelson to drill past Conor McPhillips. Doherty and Conor Grant posted the points.
Donegal were totally on top at this stage and they quickly added two more goals from Paul Nelson and Doherty.
Nelson took a long delivery before rounding the ‘keeper on 43 minutes for a 2-7 to 1-1 lead.
And Sam Doherty, who produced a man of the match performance from wing, completed the scoring shortly after when he converted from the penalty spot after he had been fouled.
In what was by and large a scrappy affair Ciaran Corrigan scored Fermanagh’s only score of the second half when he pointed from a close in free.
There were a number of ugly flare ups in the second period that saw Fermanagh reduced to 13 players and Donegal finish with 14.
Fermanagh’s Matthew McGlade was the first to receive his marching orders following an incident with one of the Donegal backroom team.
McGlade’s red card was in the early minutes of the second half while Conor Griffin, Donegal and Ciaran Corrigan picked up their reds in the closing minutes following a flare up involving up to half dozen players from both side.
Donegal: Dylan Laverty; Conor Griffin, Donal McLaughlin, Ciaran Rami; SAnderson, Jack O’Loughlin, Sam Doherty (2-1, 1-0 pen); Steven Doherty (0-1), Justin McBride; Aaron McCauley (0-2, 1f), Sean Curran, Conor Grant (0-1); Conor O’Grady, Paul Nelson (1-2), Eddie Lynch. Subs: Daniel Wilson for Lynch (h/t), Matt Ahern for P Nelson and (44), Tommy Gillespie forD McLaughlin (50), Gavin McGrath for S Curran (60+2).
Fermanagh: Colum McPhillips; Ronan Markey, Jack Gavin, Sean Finbar Killen; Michael Williamson, Odhran Russell, Dermot Russell; Thomas Cleary, Aaron McGee; Vincent Woods, Matthew McGrade, Kevin Curran; Ciaran Corrigan (0-1, 1f), Conor McShea (0-1), Conor Goodwin (1-0). Subs: Sean Porteous for J Gavin (2); Dara Dillon for R Markey (44), Tarlach Russell for K Curran (52).
Referee: Kevin McGeeney (Roscommon).