IT’S been an unforgettable year for football in the county so the last meaningful fixture was never going to peter out?
Naomh Conaill 2-5
St. Eunan’s 1-6
In yesterday’s Centra Supermarkets U-21A county final in the autumnal surroundings of Convoy, the respective footballers of Naomh Conaill and St Eunan’s were deadlocked at 1-5 apiece entering stoppage time. Talk flittered through the air of extra-time or even a replay. Dermot Molloy had just levelled the scores.
However, there was still a final to be won as the watch ticked on and St Eunan’s goalkeeper Jordan McBride hurriedly tried to restart the game, but his kick-out failed to reach a shirt of the black and amber variety and instead fell into Molloy’s hands.
The county forward immediately had a goal chance but with St Eunan’s scrambling for position, Molloy instead chose the wise option by squaring for the adjacent Seamus Ellis to gleefully slap into the unguarded side of goal.
It was a climatic finish if ever there was one and with white flags no good to the Letterkenny side and green the one they craved, they launched one last, hopeful forage. The ball fell to substitute Garbhan Grant, who shot for Ronan O’Donnell’s top corner with the outside of his right foot only to clear a crossbar by a couple of feet for a point. Shaun McLaughlin, the match referee, blew for time moments later. Naomh Conaill had won.
Pretty much the same groups of players had seen St Eunan’s win the U-16 final between the two teams and Naomh Conaill gaining revenge in the minor final at Sean MacCumhaill Park three years afterwards, in 2009. And, of course, early last month a sprinkling of players were involved in St Eunan’s narrow win in the senior final between the protagonists.
Yesterday’s win was Naomh Conaill’s fifth in seven years at the U-21 bracket. The Glenties based side took home the title in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, as well as losing the showpieces to St Michael’s in 2009 and Kilcar last season. They have an affinity with the competition and that made them fight until the bitter end, denying St Eunan’s their first win since 2003.
If the late goal was a telling moment, so too was the first. Molloy, on 63 seconds, had given the team managed by Connie Doherty a dream start. Having started the match at centre-field, he seized on a loose ball from Oisin Carr in the middle third and made a beeline for McBride’s goal. Challenges weren’t forthcoming and that enabled space to come onto the trusted left foot and Molloy smacked under the St Eunan’s goalkeeper.
Defences, though, were on top for long spells with both centre-backs, Cathal Ellis and Peter Devine, enjoying fine games. Naomh Conaill wouldn’t score again till the latter stages of the half, while St Eunan’s were only marginally more prolific, with two Conor Gibbons frees bringing them back to 1-0 to 0-2 down as time wore thin.
However, the match finally caught fire when Michael Gibbons’ team grabbed a goal on 30 minutes. Conor O’Donnell made a typically marauding break from the confines of the right-half-back position and when found by Conor Gibbons, shot for goal.
O’Donnell in the Naomh Conaill goal did enough to save but the rebound was slotted into the net by Lee McMonagle, the man who had scored the all-important goal in the senior final between the same two teams. Molloy, crisply, at the other end reduced the margins to the minimum at the break; St Eunan’s 1-2 to 1-1 in front.
O’Donnell showed his abilities going forward again at the start of the second half to manufacture a two-point St Eunan’s advantage but Naomh Conaill’s stocking was yet to be filled. John O’Malley scored from a free before Ciaran Thompson levelled at 1-3 apiece.
Gibbons, with a free, and Molloy traded points once more before Gibbons fourth of the day gave St Eunan’s the lead, far from an unassailable one, four minutes from time. There were similarities when compared with the senior final, with the roles in reverse, when they side in front just couldn’t get out of sight.
St Eunan’s held onto the brink of full-time, before Seamus Ellis made sure, once again, the blue and white ribbons would be placed on the cup as it made its way back to Davey Brennan Memorial Park.
Naomh Conaill: Ronan O’Donnell; Seamus Campbell, Jason Campbell, Hughie Gallagher; Seamus Ellis (1-0), Cathal Ellis, Mark Gallagher; Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Patrick Moss; Eunan Doherty, Dermot Molloy (1-3), James Doherty; Jamie McHugh, John O’Malley (0-1, 1f), Christopher Molloy. Sub: John Molloy for C Molloy (51).
St. Eunan’s: Jordan McBride; Colm Flood, Conor Parke, Mark Forde; Conor O’Donnell (0-1), Peter Devine, Oisin Carr; Conal McGinley, Caolan Ward; Ciaran Greaney, Conor Gibbons (0-4, 4f), Darragh Mulgrew; Michael Coleman, Lee McMonagle (1-0), Packie Kennedy. Sub: Garbhan Grant (0-1) for Forde (37).
Referee: Shaun McLaughlin (Malin).
Man of the match
St Eunan’s were best served by the industrious Packie Kennedy up front, while Peter Devine and Conor O’Donnell impressed from the half-back line, while Naomh Conaill had good showings from Cathal Ellis and Ciaran Thompson. But with 1-3 in a final, including a significant hand in his side’s other scores, Dermot Molloy was the driving force behind the win.
Malin official Shaun McLaughlin wasn’t an overly significant participant in the game and neither side could have many complaints over his handing of the match.
When margins are thin, just as they were in Convoy yesterday, one moment will stand out – Seamus Ellis’s last gasp winning goal that took the U-21 championship back to Glenties. Again.