Bundoran stuttered to victory over a hugely improved Naomh Bríd in an entertaining game at Fr Tierney Park in Ballyshannon.
Naomh Brid 2-5
Hammered by Bundoran in the group stages by 2-11 to 0-7, Naomh Brid were a totally different prospect this time out. Much better organised all over the field, they had a real determination about them, and to be frank were more than a little unlucky at key moments in this game - so much so that Bundoran boss Brian Gavigann admitted his side got “the fright of our lives”.
In a first half where they dominated they must still be wondering how they came in losing by one point, 2-5 to 2-4. Bundoran lived dangerously for 40 minutes but closed the game out clinically, with their overall power and strength critical.
Naomh Brid, who managed only one first half point in the group stages meeting, played all the best football in the first 25 minutes on Saturday evening with forwards Shane, Clint and David Walsh all causing problems. However, this time out only one second half point, from a free, underlines their lack of a regular finishing threat.
David Walsh, the oldest player on the 2015 county squad, showed no sign of ageing on 16 minutes when he timed his run perfectly to take a long ball from Shane Walsh, which he tucked neatly past Johnny Keenan.
That put Naomh Brid 2-2 to four points ahead and they were well worth their double scores lead. Their first goal, on 12 minutes, was a little fortunate, bouncing off James Keaney’s chest as he came out ahead of David Walsh. The loose ball cannoned to Shane Walsh who covered 30 metres in jig time before stabbing the ball deftly to the net.
Looking lethargic - like a team who expected to win - Bundoran had a rude awakening as a very differently set up Naomh Brid gave them their fill of it. First to the breaking ball, playing to a plan, the Laghey/Ballintra combo were very much up for this one and there was to be no repeat of the previous humiliation. Allied to some long ball from Shane to David Walsh, they were much improved at midfield and Ross Gallagher led a tight, sharp, mobile half back line. But somehow they contrived to shoot themselves in both feet in the final minutes of the first half and invited Bundoran back into this game. Bundoran didn’t have to be asked twice.
Jamie Brennan, a former live wire county minor now under 21 star, bundled home a goal on 28 minutes after Peter McGonagle’s initial drive was brilliantly blocked. That apart, Brennan looked wasted at full-forward. Bundoran added a lucky second goal two minutes later when shoot-on-sight man Christy Keaney’s long range lob was dropped behind his line by ‘keeper Pauric McDaid to give Bundoran an unlikely one point half-time lead.
But Naomh Brid were unlucky early in the half when Bundoran ‘keeper Johnny Keenan made a flap at a crossed ball to give Clint Walsh a golden goal chance. However Keenan redeemed himself with a wonder save from Walsh and the danger was cleared. A turning point for sure, and from that moment on one sensed Bundoran, playing far from fluidly, would win.
In a half broken by two lengthy stoppages they hit points from a Tommy Hourihane free and a great score from the lively Diarmuid Spratt to sit 2-7 to 2-4 ahead by the 45th minute. Clint Walsh avoided a possible black card for a foul on Brennan as Bundoran steadied up. David Walsh, from the hands and Gary Clancy traded points from frees and in the embers of a final half which saw seven added minutes, Spratt punished a poor kickout with his second of the day while Christy Keaney split the posts with a 59th minute beauty that sealed the deal for Bundoran as an unusually dark autumn evening closed in on a paltry attendance at the Ballyshannon venue.
Ross and Callum Gallagher in defence, John McNulty, Shane and David Walsh in attack and a much improved Tommy Gallagher at midfield impressed for Naomh Brid while sub Paul Brennan, Johnny Boyle, Diarmuid Spratt, Gary Clancy and James Keaney, despite having his hands full with county man Walsh, were best in a strangely subdued albeit victorious Bundoran.
An interesting 67 minutes football, plaudits to Naomh Brid for asking Bundoran some serious questions. Referee Jimmy White is still one of the best referees about, but perhaps a little lenient on a probable black card which Clint Walsh avoided.
Bundoran: J Keenan; D McCaughey, J Keaney, P Rooney; B McGowan, S McGowan, J Boyle 0-1; C McCaughey, P McGonagle; D Spratt 0-2, G Clancy 0-3, 1f, S Moohan; T Hourihane 0-3, 1f, J Brennan 1-0, C Keaney 1-1. Subs: P Brennan (18) for B McGowan; D Hoey (41) for Moohan; F Mc Kiernan (63) for C McCaughey (black card).
Naomh Brid: P McDaid; G McCafferty, J Timoney, S Burgess; C Gallagher, R Gallagher 0-1, D Brogan; T Gallagher, D Langan; D McCafferty, J McNulty, C Walsh; S Walsh 1-1, D Walsh 1-3, 1f, S Timoney. Subs: Cian Gallagher (51) for D McCafferty; P Brennan (59) for Langan; E Haran (60) for S Walsh (injd.).
Ref: J White (Killybegs).
Bundoran manager Brian Gavigan was a relieved man at the final whistle: “We got the fright of our lives here today. We were very fortunate to be one point up at half-time, we were blessed.”
He agreed the game bore no comparison to the cake walk three weeks ago in Bundoran: “They set up differently and showed real balls in the first half, they were very determined and came at us with everything, they gave us a torrid time.
“It’s championship at this stage, real do or die stuff and they knew it was their last chance. I suppose the positive for us is that we came through - eventually - but we’re over the line now and I’m walking out of Fr Tierney Park happy to be in the last four. We have huge work to do, today at best we gave 30/40 per cent of what we can.
“In the second half we had that wee bit extra to carry us over the line, but yes, we got the fright of our lives.”
Brian revealed sub Paul Brennan rushed to the game from a study course in England, landing at Dublin airport at 3.25pm and was immediately introduced to steady the ship. In other team news he said Alan Russell who bagged 1-3 when the sides last met in the group stages, is ten days out from full fitness, having picked up a hamstring injury.
Bundoran captain Tommy Hourihane who scored three points on Saturday, two from play. denied they took Naomh Brid for granted: “We had a big focus on Ballintra, no matter what other people said. We kept grounded and we knew that they would be a different team to the one we had defeated earlier. We got out of jail there today. We got the fright of our lives in the first half. We had a bit of luck with the second goal but the ball did cross the line,” said Tommy. “We have an awful lot of work to do. Hopefully now this win will build confidence,” said Tommy, who added the side were disappointed to lose senior status last year.
“We got an awful kick in the teeth last year and we now have the chance to make amends this year,” said Tommy.