SPORTS COLUMN

What made the difference for Naomh Conaill to reach Donegal final?

THE SPORTING DIARY with Sports Ed Peter Campbell

What made the difference for Naomh Conaill to reach Donegal final?

Naomh Conaill show tremendous mental toughness to prevail

The one question on my mind as I drove home from MacCumhaill Park on Saturday evening last along with Brendan O’Reilly was: “How did Gaoth Dobhair not get at least a replay?”

But when the analysis is done, it was all down to a stubborn Naomh Conaill refusing to throw in the towel.

Six points down at the break, they looked like they would need something of a miracle to turn it around. But in hindsight, the miracle was probably the half-time whistle. They were going nowhere in the first half with Gaoth Dobhair running the show, especially in the second quarter.

While Odhrán Mac Niallais was firing over sublime points from impossible angles, it was Eamon McGee who was conducting the orchestra, winning frees and finding players in space. There was a big case to be made for asking him to return to county football.

The six point half-time lead didn’t flatter the Magheragallon men.

But sometimes things can turn. And turn they did. The Naomh Conaill goal was the big turning point. Gaoth Dobhair probably should have had a free in after Mac Niallais was bundled over by Anthony Thompson, but sometimes you don’t get those type of frees when you are five or six up. Who would be a referee?

Seamus McGonigle, I thought, had a good game. If that decision went against Gaoth Dobhair, McGonigle did very well at the end when he allowed Eamon McGee to take a quick free after a Gaoth Dobhair player was hauled to the ground in the final seconds. By not stopping the play, he gave Gaoth Dobhair the chance to take full advantage, and if Cian Mulligan had picked up rather than try to find Gavin McBride, then we would at least be back in MacCumhaill Park this weekend for a replay.

I’m quite sure if Mulligan had taken possession that ‘keeper Stephen McGrath, who was already almost on the 20m line, would have had to foul him or else give away a goal. The resultant free would have been a formality to level the game.

As it was, the ball went out for a ‘45’; McGonigle went back and rightly black carded Kieran Gallagher but Gavin McBride’s ‘45’ was agonisingly wide, curling in just behind the posts.

There are days when things go your way. And it seemed like that for Naomh Conaill. Even their goal had a hint of softness. Eoin Waide would probably admit that his shot was weak and Christopher Sweeney should really have held it rather than parry it out. But fair play to Kieran Gallagher, who didn’t panic, but took possession before sidefooting home.

Naomh Conaill were rewarded for being persistent. Leo McLoone was to the fore as was Brendan McDyer. These two won most of the vital frees and young Eoghan McGettigan certainly stood up when it mattered. In all McGettigan and John O’Malley accounted for 0-8 in frees - half the Naomh Conaill final total.

When you look coldly at the game and are asked to give individual player ratings, then Eamon McGee, Odhrán Mac Niallais and Michael Carroll would probably rank ahead of any of the Naomh Conaill players.

But it is a team game and it was the sum of the parts and that willingness to give everything which made the difference.

Will that be enough for Naomh Conaill in the final against Kilcar? It is hard to know, but one feels that they will have to improve in certain aspects as well as retaining that fierce hunger if they are to overcome the favourites.

But then we know what happened last year. On any given day, any team, with the right preparation and performance, can overcome.

Milford to master St. Naul’s

It is a similar story this weekend in the Intermediate final. Milford go into the contest as overwhelming favourites, while St. Naul’s have nothing to lose.

Milford have had to battle some big obstacles in Cloughaneely and Aodh Ruadh and they seem to have great strength in depth.

St. Naul’s have Stephen Griffin back and along with the likes of Peadar Mogan, Stuart Johnston, Barry Griffin and the Roses, they have scoring power also.

Could there be another John Mac Miracle?