Ardara, winners over Buncrana on Sunday.
Ardara tightened matters at the business end of a claustrophobic Division 2 with a battling victory over Buncrana in Pearse Park on Sunday afternoon.
In a niggly contest that had its fair share of flash points, the spoils remained up for grabs right until the end. And while the quality on show wasn't always of the highest order, the competitive and physical edge to matters meant that it was completely engrossing from the very opening to the absolute end.
The hosts began the afternoon in fifth position in the standings while visitors Buncrana were back in eighth. However, it was the Inishowen men that started the more impressively.
A darting run in from the wide left by John Campbell left Declan Gavigan trailing in his wake. And while Ciaran Gildea did brilliantly to deflect his drive up and off the crossbar; the Ardara defence was far too slow in allowing William McLaughlin to canter in and palm the rebound to an empty net.
Campbell, lively on the edge of the home square, did get on the scoresheet on seven minutes as Buncrana went four clear. Indeed, they could and should have raised a second green flag when Campbell intercepted a wayward and short Gildea dispatch.
He trotted in and casually looked to float the ball in over the advancing custodian's head. Thankfully, from a home perspective at least, the effort just drifted wide of the post. It took a full 11 minutes for Ardara to trouble the scoreboard operator as Lorcan O'Donnell clipped over.
The same player then doubled his and his side's total just shy of the quarter hour mark when the lively inside forward lamped over from the '45. Still, Ardara's rearguard continued to look fragile and Odhran Doherty took advantage of that slackness to once again put three between the sides.
A harsh enough call on Paddy McGrath for a hefty but legitimate looking intervention on Caolan McGonagle afforded Oisin Doherty the easiest of chances from close range. Up the other end, CJ Molloy ambitiously flashed one wide of the net from a fair distance out when the smarter option might have been to take a point.
Buncrana again threatened to goal when Doherty raced in towards the Ardara posts. But with Darach O'Connor – in off the bench on 19 minutes – to his left, the No. 11 stubbornly ignored the Jigger and instead blasted over the bar.
John Ross Molloy and CJ Molloy both posted successive points for Ardara as they again looked to bridge a gap of three. A huge punt from distance by veteran Brendan Boyle trimmed one off that margin as the 30-minute mark approached.
Just before the short whistle, tempers flared and did threaten to boil over. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and the situation was quickly defused by both intervening benches.
Half-time: Buncrana 1-4:0-5 Ardara.
Adrian Brennan must have read the riot act at the break as Ardara re-emerged a much more purposeful and direct outfit, First, Brendan McNelis hammered over a fine effort from the far left less than a minute into the new period.
Moments later, John Ross Molloy took the fight to the centre of the Buncrana defence and he teed up the looping Concarr who rifled past Alan Fletcher. With Ardara leading for the first time, Concarr quickly clipped over a close range free, won by Ryan Malley, as his side's new found advantage stretched to three.
Ardara were now in the ascendancy. With O'Donnell again proving a nuisance inside, he once more earned an attractive free for Concarr to easily convert. With 1-8 now playing 1-4, Buncrana were in real danger of drifting completely out of contention if they didn't stem the tide in some manner.
The touch paper again ignited but with sporadic coming togethers breaking out in various pockets of the playing field match official Liam McConigley, with no neutral assistance at the foot of either sets of posts or touchlines, found himself in an almost impossible position.
When the action resumed, Campbell lofted over a free to steady matters and, in the process, again make this a three-point game. Buncrana's lack of discipline finally cost them when Kevin O'Laughlin walked to a straight red card.
Another bout of pantomime 'hold me back' type of fisticuffs ensued. When the dust settled, Campbell nailed a free and the gap was narrowed to two with 57 minutes ticked by on the clock.
As injury time approached, a decisive moment occurred when Campbell won a long and searching ball into the Ardara defensive third. He powered around the outside of his marker and arrowed a thunderous drive towards goal. But just like in the first half, he was thwarted by the acrobatics of Gildea in the Ardara goal.
The home stopper's high paw pushed the ball over the bar to leave matters now delicately poised and just about still in his side's favour on 1-8 to 1-7. Brendan Boyle again showed his invaluable leadership to horse over another excellent effort from out the park to steady the nerves that were threatening to creep in.
Buncrana lost Aidan Doherty to a black card in the dying seconds while CJ Molloy also departed to a second yellow. Nearing the death, Malley made sure of things with Ardara nailing a valuable but hard earned two points to the board.
Ardara: Ciaran Gildea; Paddy McGrath, Declan Gavigan, Oisin O'Donnell; Nicolas Maguire, John Ross Molloy (0-1), Kieran Breslin; Conall Boomer, Brendan McNelis (0-1); Gareth Concarr (1-2,2f), Conor Classon, Lorcan O'Donnell (0-2,1'45); Ryan Malley (0-1), Brendan Boyle (0-2), CJ Molloy (0-1).
Subs: Brian Whyte for O O'Donnell (26), Danny Walsh for C Boomer (ht).
Buncrana: Alan Fletcher; Shane McLaughlin, Mickey Gallagher, Stephen Doherty; William McLaughlin (1-0), Kevin O'Loughlin, Adam Doherty; Peter McLaughlin, Caolan McGonagle; Andrew Doherty, Odhran Doherty (0-2), Oisin O'Flaherty; Declan McCarron, John Campbell (0-4,2f), Oisin Doherty (0-1,1f).
Subs: Darach O'Connor for O O'Flaherty (19), Jason Campbell for A Doherty (59, black card).
Referee: Liam McConigley (Downings).