Eamonn Doherty of St. Eunans in the thick of the action in Magheragallon
It ended honours even between Gaoth Dobhair and St Eunans in the big game of the opening weekend of the Donegal Senior Club Championship on Sunday evening in Magheragallon.
Gaoth Dobhair . . . 1-3
St Eunans . . . 0-6
In a low scoring affair, it took an Odhran MacNiallais goal eight minutes from the end of normal time to earn the Donegal and Ulster champions a share of the spoils in what was an intriguing tactical battle.
Gaoth Dobhair began with 14 of the team that started this year’s Ulster final. They played into the breeze in the first half and did all the early pressing.
But with St Eunans defending in numbers Gaoth Dobhair had to wait until the eighth minute for the opening score.
The St Eunan’s line-up had a very defensive look to it with Eamonn Doherty and Brian MacIntyre, two recognised defenders in the wing half forward positions. Rory Kavanagh was in the number six shirt at centre half-back.
Cian Mulligan managed to find space to split the posts after a patient build from the champions. St Eunans had to wait until the 12th minute for their opening score - Niall O’Donnell from a close in free after Eoghan McGeehin was fouled.
But with defences on top the large crowd had to wait until the 15th minute for the game’s next score. Odhran MacNiallais converted from a ‘45. It came after Shaun Patton had saved brilliantly from Kevin Cassidy after Odhran McFadden Ferry and Dáire Ó Baoill combined to splice the St Eunan’s rearguard wide open. Gaoth Dobhair were in front 0-2 to 0-1.
Amazingly that was Gaoth Dobhair’s final score of the half and as the half wore on St Eunans came more into the game. And they were unlucky not to score a goal when Rory Carr’s strike came back off the upright and Neil McGee got back to take the rebound off the toe of Niall O’Donnell as he was about to tap home the rebound.
Though St Eunans defended in numbers, they employed a high press on the Gaoth Dobhair kickouts.
And it paid off in the closing minutes of the half as they took a two point lead to the dressing room thanks to two Niall O’Donnell frees and a fine long range point from Darragh Mulgrew. St Eunans were 0-4 to 0-2 in front at the break.
Caolan Ward in an advanced position intercepted a Gaoth Dobhair kickout to draw first blood for the visitors in the second half to extend the lead out to three points.
St Eunans were now applying all the pressure and they were four up four minutes later when Niall O’Donnell converted another close in free shortly after Patton again denied Dáire Ó Baoill from the edge of the large rectangle. MacNiallais was wide from the resultant ‘45.
Gaoth Dobhair were playing with all the appearances of a team that were waiting for someone to light the spark.
They were thankful to MacNiallais who pounced to score the goal late on. It tied up the game and meant the points were shared.
This was a super disciplined performance from a young St Eunans side against the reigning Ulster champions on their own patch.
For Gaoth Dobhair, who never really got into the game, this was a big wake-up call if they are to have any chance of retaining their Donegal and Ulster crowns.
GAOTH DOBHAIR: Christopher Sweeney; Gary McFadden, Neil McGee, Christopher McFadden; Niall Friel, Dan McBride, Odhran McFadden-Ferry; Michael Carroll (0-1), Eamon McGee; Dáire Ó Baoill, Odhran MacNiallais (1-1,1 ‘45’), Cian Mulligan (0-1); Ethan Harkin, Kevin Cassidy, Naoise Ó Baoill.
Subs: Kieran Gillespie for O McFadden Ferry 41, Gavin McBride for Harkin 53; Seaghan Ferry for N Ó Baoill 60.
ST EUNANS: Shaun Patton; Aaron Deeney, Conor Morrison, Caolan Ward (0-1); Conor Parke, Rory Kavanagh, Darragh Mulgew (0-1); Eamonn Doherty, Sean McGettigan; Conor O’Donnell, John Kelly, Brian McIntyre; Niall O’Donnell (0-4, 3f), Rory Carr, Eoin McGeehin. Subs: Peter McEniff for Carr 42; Sean McVeigh for Kavanagh 46; Jamie Doherty for McGeehin 60.
REFEREE: Enda McFeely (St Mary’s, Convoy).