Super sub Darragh Gallagher bounced from the bench to strike the crucial goal in this really absorbing affair between Tir Chonaill’s two heavyweights at Sean MacCumhaill Park.
Naomh Conaill . . . . . . . . . . 1-13
St Eunan’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-8
Gallagher crashed the ball to the St Eunan’s net after good play from Dermot Molloy and a superb flick from Brendan McDyer set up Gallagher.
Eunan’s keeper Sean Daffan seemed to have averted the danger with a brilliant smother, but the hungry Gallagher followed through to blast the ball to the Eunan’s net in the 52nd minute to put Naomh Conaill ahead by 1-11 to 1-7 and put them firmly on the road to a savoury semi-final clash with Kilcar.
It was all uphill thereafter for a valiant Eunan’s side that was minus Kevin Rafferty, Lee McMonagle, Rory Carr and also lost the vastly experienced Conall Dunne just before the throw-in.
But they had one last chance to come back when lively veteran Rory Kavanagh shimmied his way into loads of space in the 60th minute.
He took careful aim but his rocketed shot bounced back off the post and Glenties knew in their hearts that they had just prevailed.
On balance they deserved victory after surviving a choppy opening, and an unusually quiet display from the talismanic Leo McLoone to set up yet another final appearance.
St Eunan’s never gave up, and threw everything into a last gasp effort to snatch victory but a physically powerful Glenties held firm.
Eunan’s were out of the blocks like greyhounds and the muscular midfielder Sean Hensey arrowed over a fine point, after just one minute.
That followed a rather petty 12-man melee with loads of shaping and squaring up just before referee Jimmy White got to throw in the ball.
And John Haran and Seamus Corcoran got yellow cards as the testiness continued in the early minutes with Sean Hensey also picked up a yellow card from referee Jimmy White.
Naomh Conaill replied through a Dermot “Brick” Molloy converted free after he was fouled.
But it was Eunan’s who looked the more likely lads for the remainder of the half as they repeatedly opened the right wing of the Glenties defence.
However it was the reigning champions who should have got the first goal when he elegant Brendan McDyer superbly unlocked the Letterkenny defence and found Leon Thompson lurking on the edge of the Eunan’s square.
McDyer flicked a perfect pass, but the usually deadly Thompson somehow managed to palm the ball over the bar in front of a glaring net in the 9th minute.
Letterkenny could have had a similar score at the other end a minute late when Peter Devine found Rory Kavanagh deep into Glenties territory, but keeper Stephen McGrath made a fine diving save at Kavanagh’s feet.
But there was nothing McGrath could do about St Eunan’s very well crafted goal that came in the 14th minute.
Once again Letterkenny profited down the right wing of the Glenties defence and Dara Mulgrew flicked the ball on to the athletic in rushing Conor Morrison who beat McGrath to the punch and flicked the ball to the net.
This was the key score of the opening half, and Eunan’s had a few further chances of points.
But the county champions refused to yield and minor Eoghan McGettigan nailed three points on the trot, including three frees to keep Glenties in touch.
Eunan’s surged clear with two points from Conor Gibbons and Rory Kavanagh, but Glenties replied through the beavering Marty Boyle and Eoin Waide to level matters at St Eunan’s 1-4 Naomh Conaill 0-7.
The scoring rate accelerated swiftly on the resumption, as both sides found the target in a remarkable flurry of scores.
Kevin McGettigan, Seamus Corcoran and Eunan Doherty got points for the winners while Conall O’Boyle hit back for Eunan’s.
But it was Glenties who were the more assertive side and they hit three bad wides before Gallagher struck gold.
However Eunan’s will be wondering what might have been had they the services of Conal Dunne, Rory Carr, Lee McMonagle, Kevin Rafferty and Conor O’Donnell.