Darach O’Connor’s splendid goal for Donegal against Antrim shows how the Jigger can jink

Alan Foley


Alan Foley

Darach O’Connor’s splendid goal for Donegal against Antrim shows how the Jigger can jink
In some ways, it perfectly depicted the old with the new.

In some ways, it perfectly depicted the old with the new.

Forty-eight minutes into Donegal’s Ulster SFC semi-final with Antrim at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones on Sunday, Patrick McBride picked up a loose ball in midfield.

The Antrim defender looked left and then right but there was nowhere to go. He was swarmed, in typical Donegal fashion, leaving himself with little or no option but to cough up possession.

Michael Murphy emerged from the ruck with the ball, feeding Darach O’Connor by his side. With the scores having been tied at 0-7 apiece at half-time, those clichés about the third quarter being Donegal’s moving quarter filled the talk at the interval.

Leo McLoone, just as he had done in Derry in the 1-11 to 0-11 win in the quarter-final exactly four weeks beforehand, almost to the minute, had scored the first goal of the afternoon with another typically assured finish.

Donegal were pushing into a 1-11 to 0-8 lead over Liam Bradley’s Antrim having started to gobble up midfield. They were moving. So was O’Connor. At frightening pace.

“When I got the ball in the middle of the field the only thing on my mind was goal,” he said of his piercing run.

Having given a give and go with Frank McGlynn, whose return pass was so well weighted O’Connor didn’t have to recalibrate his run, the teen bore down on goal, edging towards his left to seemingly slot over a point.

At the last minute, with Kevin O’Boyle, the Antrim corner-back turned sweeper closing in, O’Connor swayed right. It was, pardon the pun, a jink from the Jigger. Showing confidence away beyond his 18 years on only his second championship start, O’Connor lashed the ball into Patrick Flood’s bottom left-hand corner. Splendidly taken.

The floodgates had well and truly opened. Donegal went onto win 3-16 to 0-12, a margin of 13 points. In Jim McGuinness’s 13th Ulster championship match in charge of his native county, he posted a 12th win that seals a fourth consecutive place in the provincial final.

“It was nice to see Jigger get a goal,” the Donegal manager said afterwards. “He did well to turn back onto his right foot and got the goal.

“There was a wee bit of class there and he does have that little trick up his sleeve.”

Like the Buncrana forward’s execution, McGuinness showed in starting O’Connor and Odhran MacNiallais in place of Karl Lacey and Rory Kavanagh, who had respective hamstring and groin strains, he has a trick or two up his own sleeve.

MacNiallais would score four points from play centre-field and O’Connor was replaced, to a standing ovation with 14 minutes left by Dermot Molloy, who rammed in the third goal in injury time.

“They’re two mighty players,” said Colm McFadden, who was making a record 52nd championship appearance, of last year’s minor captain and MacNiallais.

To put it into perspective, O’Connor was six years of age when McFadden, Christy Toye and Kavanagh first played championship football for Donegal in the summer of 2002.

“Young Darach has an eye for the goal and it was a great finish by him there,” McFadden added. “Odhrán chipped in with a few points. It’s great to see the young lads doing well.”

O’Connor, if the cookie had’ve crumbled differently, might’ve been looking forward to next month’s provincial showpiece from his usual abode in Clones.

“I’ve been up there on the Hill for the last few years,” the Scoil Mhuire Buncrana student said from the St Tiernach’s Park pitch in reference to the huge terrace behind the Pat McGrane Stand.

“I’ve always been there, supporting the lads from there. To get the chance to play in an Ulster final is a dream come true. Hopefully we can now get an Ulster out of this.

“It’s been a good week for me. I finished the Leaving Cert on Thursday and I got back training then with the boys so this is the perfect conclusion.”

O’Connor certainly breezed through whatever test was put in front of him on Sunday. His week, just like the move involving Murphy and McGlynn, had a perfect conclusion.