Grit and determination were the ingredients as Naomh Conaill upset the odds to win the Donegal senior championship title against St. Eunan’s in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.
Naomh Conaill 0-11
St. Eunan’s 0-10
The reigning champions, St. Eunan’s, were two points ahead (0-8 to 0-6) nine minutes into the second half when Naomh Conaill were reduced to 14 men.
Young 17-year-old Eoghan McGettigan had just taken the field during a break in play when a melee broke out and at the end of it McGettigan was shown red before the play resumed.
The incident seemed to happen out of nothing and most people missed the start of it. At the end of pushing and shoving apart from the red for McGettigan, there were yellows for Johnny McLoone and Brendan McDyer, with no St. Eunan’s player carded, which was surprising, given how many were involved.
It was the big moment in the match and one which got Naomh Conaill going. They responded magnificently led by a real hero in man of the match and captain, Leo McLoone.
Indeed, McLoone was denied what looked a magnificent goal minutes later as he broke through to fire a piledriver to the net but he was pulled back as a free had been awarded. Referee Andrew Mullin had blown for the free but could have given McLoone the advantage. In the end the decision was not a game changer, thankfully.
Dermot Molloy pointed the free and then McLoone showed great strength in winning and pointing the equaliser on 49 minutes.
Seconds later St. Eunan’s brought in Derry City star Cillian Morrison but he only lasted a few minutes before picking up a black card on 51 minutes.
Another significant substitution saw Co. minor Ethan O’Donnell introduced for Naomh Conaill and he was involved in two of their remaining three points.
First he dispossessed Eamonn Doherty for Dermot Molloy to push Naomh Conaill a point clear on 53 minutes.
St. Eunan’s got back on level terms at 0-9 each thanks to Caolan Ward, but two points in quick succession from Johnny McLoone and corner back Aaron Thompson was enough for them to secure the win. Leon Thompson was central for McLoone’s point while for what proved to be the insurance point was a magnificently created point, started and finished by Aaron Thompson with Ethan O’Donnell heavily involved.
It was a special day for the four Thompson brothers, who became the third set of four brothers to win a Donegal senior championship medals.
CLOSE OPENING HALF
The opening half was a very close affair with the sides level on four occasions.
They had the opening point on two minutes when Lee McMonagle was set up by John Haran but almost immediately Ciaran Thompson started and finished the equaliser.
Brendan McDyer, looking very sharp despite his injury lay-off, was almost in for goal after taking a pass from Eoin Waide and after a St. Eunan’s player touched on the ground, Dermot Molloy pointed the free.
Conall Dunne was wide from a free but Rory Carr drilled a great point from 45m after Caolan Ward was fouled.
St. Eunan’s had a great goal chance on 12 minutes which would have been a team classic. A short kick-out was followed by four handpasses before Rory Kavanagh released Eamonn Doherty but his blaster came back off the crossbar to safety.
Points from Brendan McDyer and John O’Malley after a quick Brick free saw Naomh Conaill take a two point advantage but St. Eunan’s replied with four in-a-row from the excellent Kevin Rafferty, Lee McMonagle, Conall Dunne (free) and Rory Carr from a tight angle.
The game was really lively with Conor Parke and Leo McLoone making great blocks. In the last minutes of the half another short free from Brick Molloy gave Eoin Waide the chance to point and Brendan McDyer ended some patient play by Naomh Conaill, taking the final pass from Leo McLoone to level matters.
However, in time added on Conall Dunne struck from outside the 45m line to leave the Letterkenny men ahead by the minimum, 0-7 TO 0-6.
The win was a special one for Brendan McDyer, who battled back from a knee ligament injury sustained when the sides met in the group stages. Three years ago a mistake by McDyer led to Naomh Conaill winning the title with a late Lee McMonagle goal.
There were shades of that again yesterday as St. Eunan’s tried to ome from behind, but this time the door was firmly shut and the Dr. Maguire was on its way back to Glenties after a five year absence. They will meet Tyrone champions, Trillick, in two weeks’ time with home advantage.
Naomh Conaill: Stephen McGrath; Aaron Thompson (0-01), AJ Gallagher, Kevin McGettigan; Marty Boyle, Anthony Thompson, Eoin Waide (0-01); Leo McLoone (0-01,f), Ciaran Thompson (0-01); Eunan Doherty, Dermot Molloy (0-03,2f), Darragh Gallagher; John O’Malley (0-01), Brendan McDyer (0-02), Leon Thompson. Subs., Johnny McLoone (0-01) foroghan’Malley, E McGettigan for D Gallagher, both 38; Seamus Corcoran for E Doherty 47; Ethan O’Donnell for McDyer 51; CM Boyle 54; athal Ellis for Johnny Bonner for L Thompson 59
St. Eunan’s: J P Clarke; Conor Parke, Sean Hensey, Peter Devine; Caolan Ward (0-01), Eamonn Doherty, Conor Morrison; Kevin Rafferty (0-01), Rory Kavanagh; Conor Gibbons, Conall Dunne (0-03,2f), Sean McVeigh; Rory Carr (0-03,2f), John Haran, Lee McMonagle (0-02). Subs., Mark McGowan for Conor Morrison 43; Cillian Morrison for Gibbons 50; Conor Gibbons for Cillian Morrison 53; Niall O’Donnell for Haran 57.
Frees: St. Eunan’s 27 (15 in first half). Naomh Conaill 18 (67in first half)
Wides: St. Eunan’s 8 (3). Naomh Conaill 12 (6)
Yellow Cards: St. Eunan’s Caolan Ward, Rory Carr.
Naomh Conaill: Johnny McLoone, Brendan McDyer, Eoin Waide
Red Cards: Naomh Conaill Eoghan McGettigan.
Black Cards: St. Eunan’s Cillian Morrison
Referee: Andrew Mullin (Killybegs).
MAN OF THE MATCH
A very easy choice. Naomh Conaill captain Leo McLoone was the rock on which they built the success. Never hurried, he was at the fulcrum of everything and his decision making was the difference in the heat of battle.