Ian Curristian, South Donegal Schoolboys League presents the cup to Erne captain Robbie Murphy. Photo Matt Britton.
Erne Wanderers ………. 2
Donegal Town ………… 1
Two fine teams served up wonderful football on Thursday evening at the Hospital Field in Donegal Town, with visitors Erne Wanderers winning the league title in a game that never lacked for skill, endeavour, drama or entertainment.
Posts, crossbars and supporters hearts were rattled by both teams on a heavenly end-of-August evening by the banks of the Eske. The immaculate venue, beautifully prepared for this final, added to the sense of occasion.
The sides had met three times in the league since April, two wins to Donegal, and until Thursday night, one to Erne. Little or nothing set them apart all year, so it was no surprise a playoff final was required to decide the silverware.
For two teams who have been consistently good all season, this game attracted more than a few neutrals to see two young sides known to play clever football.
It was a tense and at times very tactical game; the players know each other inside out.
Some of the football played over the hour was simply brilliant. Credit the coaches here who clearly want to see attacking football played and that’s what we got in abundance.
The teams have contrasting styles, Erne opting to pass and move, Donegal Town more inclined to a longer, early ball hit over the top - which they break on to with real purpose.
Busy Keepers: Ryan Daly makes a good save for Erne Wanderers and below, Seoirse O'Flaherty, in goal for Donegal Town, also had to be on his toes as Erne's Jack Gallagher moves in during a game of end to end action. Photos Matt Britton.
It made it very easy to watch, both sides had a bucket load of chances with the mixture of great close control and lightening speed from defence to attack keeping all well entertained.
Thanks to an excellent referee Seamus McGrory and his assistant referees Ralph Wilson and John McGlanaghy, this game was superbly handled by the officials.
Erne led 2-0 at half time, goals on two minutes from Robbie Murphy and a penalty by Jack Gallagher on 28, but a Donegal Town goal with nine minutes to play from their talisman, Ruairí McLaughlin, left the final outcome in doubt as play swung from end to end.
When the losers look back at this game, they’ll know they had no shortage of chances. But, a combination of fine defending and good goalkeeping, saw them denied. The victors also created many chances they didn’t take and were often denied by fine keeping at their end and hard working defenders too.
Erne’s Shane Delahunty gave a defensive masterclass, his reading of the game, timing of a tackle, first touch and blistering speed, a sight to behold. He gave a man-of-the-match performance - but there was no shortage of contenders.
Not far behind him in a midfield and attacking role for Donegal Town was the talented Ruairí McLaughlin. Briefly played on the wing, moved to a more central role after eight minutes, he was the ‘go-to’ person for the home side. Time and again he tested and was denied by the excellent Ryan Daly in the Erne nets. Jack Gallagher up front for Erne, blessed with remarkable pace and energy, ran himself into the ground. He created havoc at the heart of the Donegal Town defence which saw him brought down on 28 minutes by two players for a penalty.
The Cashelard flyer, oozing the confidence every striker needs, tucked the penalty into the corner with a sublime side-foot.
Gallagher’s partner in attack, captain Robbie Murphy, made a fine contribution, his second minute goal from a cross from Delahunty after a deft flick-on by Gallagher, a stand out moment for the clinical Rossnowlagh-based finisher. In the thick of the action too was the the side’s other Cashelard-based player, Eoin Kelly, a real tiger in the tackle, who led by example from midfield.
For Donegal Town their keeper, Seoirse O’Flaherty did well and like Daly, had no call for a hand warmer, as Erne put him to the test early and often. He could do little about Murphy’s class finish after two minutes and Gallagher’s neatly taken penalty, but over the hour he made a series of brave and athletic saves.
Often under pressure in defence, Theo Colhoun, Jake Graham and second half sub Tiernan McBride all worked well while Rian Carr, from quick breaks was often a thorn in Erne’s side.
After Robbie Murphy’s goal, Erne might have had a second two minutes later, Eoin Kelly firing over the bar. On nine minutes Kelly was at it again, with an outrageous chipped attempt brilliantly flicked out by keeper O’Flaherty for Erne’s 4th corner.
On 15 minutes Donegal’s McLaughlin blasted a piledriver from 25 metres which hit the post and was swiftly gathered by the keeper Daly; five minutes later he again saved well from McLaughlin; Tommy Winters on 26, with a lovely weighted ball, put Jack Gallagher through, but a great stop from O’Flaherty denied him a goal.
Two minutes later Gallagher took the Donegal defence on single handed (and won) as he deftly slid the ball past a defender and was taken down by two players for a penalty - which he slotted home.
On 29 minutes McLaughlin again had a good strike brilliantly saved by the Erne keeper. Ten seconds into the second half Donegal Town were very unlucky not to score, Theo Colhoun’s effort denied by Aiden Sweeny and James Gallagher. On 40 and 42 minutes Robbie Murphy fired a great strike off the bar and a very busy sub Fionn Gallagher was just over with a drive from the edge of the box.
On 51 minutes Donegal finally cracked the Erne defence, a rare miss-timed clearance falling perfectly for McLaughlin who found himself in a one-on-one and he flicked the ball neatly past the advancing keeper.
2-1 behind with nine minutes plus stoppages to play, Donegal Town had the bit between their teeth; on 56 minutes Conor Meehan’s cracking shot was well saved. Two minutes later the town keeper O’Flaherty made another good save from the elusive Jack Gallagher; in stoppage time Donegal Town were almost through again but the Erne keeper, Ryan Daly capped a very good day in nets when he got a foot out to deny a goal.
After the match Ian Curristian of the South Donegal Schoolboys League who presented Robbie Murphy with the cup, praised both squads and their coaches for an excellent game and their hard work and congratulated both sides who will now go forward to the Champions League section of the competition where they meet teams from other schoolboy districts in the coming weeks.
Erne Wanderers: Ryan Daly, James Gallagher, Aiden Sweeny, Shane Delahunty, Shane McGloin, Tommy Winters, Robbie Murphy, Jack Gallagher, Eoin Kelly. Subs: Maitiu Tierney (20) for McGloin; McGloin (half time) for Tierney; Fionn Gallagher (40) for McGloin; Aongus Sweeny (45) for James Gallagher; Cian Duncan (54) for Winters. Oisin McGlinchey, Keela McGowan.Coaches: Conrad Clarke and Jim Duncan.
Donegal Town: Seoirse O’Flaherty, Josh Wray, Theo Colhoun, Jake Graham, Daniel McIntyre, Ruairí McLaughlin, Conor Meehan, David Lagan, Rion Carr. Subs: Tiernan McBride for McIntyre; Sean Quinlan, Evan Higgins, Ben O’Gorman. Coaches - Lee Graham, Paddy Colhoun, George O'Flaherty.
Referee: Seamus McGrory; Assistant Referees, Ralph Wilson, John McGlanaghy.
Erne Wanderers squad with their managers Conrad Clarke (left) and Jim Duncan. Photo Matt Britton.
Below, Donegal Town squad with their management team, George O'Flaherty, Lee Graham and Paddy Colhoun. Photo Matt Britton.