Donegal get the Nicky Rackard Cup
Dazzling Declan Coulter and the electrifying Gerry Gilmore if Donegal lit up Ireland’s greatest field of dreams with a scintillating display that eventually helped quell a strong challenge from a gallant Warwickshire side.
This deadly duo gave display of ash artistry that will live long in the memory of those who follow the greatest field game in the field.
Coulter finished with 1-9 and showed all his big game experience by taking the game to the Exiles almost singlehandedly in a first half, where Donegal struggled to cope with a very well organized Warwickshire side.
And Gilmore converted three magnificent sideline cuts, two came in the first half when they were badly needed and the third 14 minutes from time, in a feat that will probably be never repeated.
Team captain Danny Cullen may have had a relatively quiet opening half by his own standards, but he certainly showed real leadership in the second half, making a few vital interceptions, and bombing a few great passes into a much improved and re-jigged forward line.
And these three heroes were helped by a much improved second half display where Donegal’s greater fitness told against a tiring Warwickshire side who lost midfielder Shane Caulfield to a second yellow card in the 48th minute.
That came two minutes after the turning point in the game when Bernard Lafferty was not able to find Coulter and the ball broke to Gavin Browne and he crashed the ball to the roof of the Warwickshire net.
Browne’s belter put Donegal in front for the first time on a score of 1-13 to 0-14.
And three minutes later, this match was really sealed when the inevitable Coulter found himself in space deep inside the Warwickshire defence after good work by the hard grafting Ronan McDermott and Bernard Lafferty.
Coulter stayed ice cool before lashing the sliothar to the roof of the net and that effectively sealed the deal for the winners.
Coulter’s clever strike put Donegal into a 2-15 to 0-15 lead and there was no way back for 14- man Warwickshire.
To their credit they never gave up and ex Antrim star Niall McKenna continued to tag on a few points.
But Mickey McCann was able to throw on players of the calibre of Niall Cleary, Lee Henderson and Enda McDermott as his men closed out the match fairly comfortably.
But for long periods in the first half, Donegal was out-foxed by an experienced Warwickshire side that had a number of hurlers who had hurled in higher echelons of hurling.
And this was very apparent in the opening half when Donegal was consistently beaten to the breaks around the middle of the field and was possibly a tad lucky to be in touch as wind assisted Warwickshire deservedly led by 0-12 to 0-8 in the opening half.
But Donegal effectively won this match in a magical five minutes in the second half after manager Mickey McCann made a few shrewd moves that worked a treat.
McCann pulled a fairly quiet Davin Flynn out of the full forward line and re-located Bernard Lafferty inside along with the hard working Ronan McDermott.
It worked very well and directly resulted in Donegal’s two killer goals that came in a period of five minutes.
Donegal made two changes from the team that beat Monaghan with Ciaran Finn and Ronan McDermott coming in for Enda McDermott and Kevin Campbell.
Wind- assisted Warwickshire were swiftly off the mark and hit a snappy point from midfielder Shane Caulfield.
And that set a firm pattern where the Exiles deservedly led by 0-12 to 0-8 at the interval.
That lead was fully merited as Warwickshire swarmed on the break ball around midfield where Donegal were often isolated and the scores followed.
Tir Conaill’s best player Declan Coulter was one of the Donegal players to feature, equalized before Warwickshire’s classy centre back Paul Hoban levelled matters from a 65 and an off colour Davin Flynn leveled matters after two minutes.
But, it was all Warwickshire thereafter and the points flowed from ex Antrim marksman Niall McKenna and Niall Kennedy as they raced into a 0-6 to 0-3 lead.
It was then that ex Tyrone star Gerard Gilmore converted the first of two expertly converted sideline cuts to narrow the gap.
Donegal did have a number of good chances midway through the first half but the usually deadly accurate Davin Flynn hit four bad wides.
Meanwhile McKenna continued to nonchalantly tap over the frees for Warwickshire who had moved into a 0-10 to 0-4 lead by the 20th minute.
A stung Donegal improved in the final quarter with Coulter taking the fight to Warwickshire almost single-handedly.
Coulter was on the mark again and Gerard Gilmore hit the second of his brilliant sideline cuts to keep Mickey McCann’s men in touch.
It was a different Donegal that took the field in the second half with Coulter once again leading brilliantly from the front.
He hit four points on the trot to level matters on 0-13 a piece by the 43rd minute.
The game had reached a crucial stage as Donegal’s better fitness was beginning to tell and Cullen was walking tall in the defence.
Warwickshire were starting to tire after their huge effort in stifling Donegal in the opening half.
Cullen was winning vital ball and Lafferty was causing Warwickshire all sorts of problems in the full-forward line.
And when Browne burst the net you got the clear feeling that this was going to be Donegal’s day.
A thoroughly deserved victory for Mickey McCann’s very well drilled men, who did not panic after a poor start and came good when it counted.
They will now be playing in the Christy Ring Cup next season with some degree of confidence.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Padraig Doherty, Christopher McDermott, Stephen Gillespie; Jamesie Donnelly, Sean McVeigh, Gavin Browne (1-0); Ciaran Matthewson (0-1) Danny Cullen; Ciaran Finn, Declan Coulter (1-9,6f) Gerry Gilmore (0-4); Bernard Lafferty (0-3) Ronan McDermott, Davin Flynn (0-2)
Subs., Niall Cleary for Jamesie Donnelly (h-time), Enda McDermott for Ronan McDermott (57), Kevin Campbell for Ciaran Finn (58), Mark Callaghan for Padraig Doherty (69) Ciaran Phelan for William Allen (71)
Warwickshire: Philip Crean; William Allen, Dean Bruen, Micheal O’Regan: Peadar Scally, Paul Hoban (0-165), Donncha Kennedy: John Collins, Shane Caulfield (0-1); Conor Robbins (0-1), Niall Kennedy (0-3) Niall McKenna (0-119f); Domhnall Nugent (0-1f) Paul Uniacke, Garry Lennon.
Subs: Kelvin Magee for John Collins (43), Robbie Curley for Michael O’Regan (58), Ian Dwyer for Niall Kennedy (62),Aaron Boxwell for Conor Robbins, Lee Henderson for Davin Flynn (65)
Red Card: Shane Caulfield (two yellows 48)
Referee: Gearoid McGrath (Wexford)