Sunday’s Raidio na Gaeltachta SFC quarter-final between Glenswilly and St Eunan’s was the most hyped of the weekend’s ties and although things perhaps didn’t reach the level of anticipation there was still plenty to chew upon.
St Eunan’s 0-9
In a peculiar way both teams might claim, with certain justification, they should have won, while at the same time be humble enough to admit they could have lost. And although the teams were level at both half and full-time, they both enjoyed a superior and inferior period apiece. Perhaps the draw was appropriate.
By the time Robbie O’Donnell called for the ball, though, it was St Eunan’s who puffed their cheeks in relief. With a minute to go they trailed 0-9 to 0-7, had lost Rory Kavanagh to a second yellow card and had not bothered an umpire in 25 minutes. However, wing-back Sean McVeigh popped over just as two minutes’ stoppage time was signalled.
Glenswilly, as was their wont, tried to slow up the game but five seconds shy of the end of the fourth additional minute St Eunan’s worked an opening before Conall Dunne took responsibility on the left-hand side to score for an unlikely reprieve.
And although the Glenswilly bench pointed at their watches, they soon put their hands back on their hips when their side was awarded a free in front of the stand. Gary McFadden stood over the ball from an incredibly awkward distance and angle and his effort went across the goal before time was called.
Glenswilly bemoaned the late concession, while will acknowledge only two points from play, both from Ciaran Bonner, wouldn’t have been seen as prerequisite to progress to the semi-final. On the other hand, St Eunan’s, who scored all but one from play, will be glad of a second chance after losing their way for a large part of the second half.
While the world and its mother anticipated a blood and thunder affair the first half was a thoughtful and tactical one. St Eunan’s almost monopolised possession, picking their fisted passes patiently and not afraid to go back to go forward.
All the talk in the lead-up to the fixture was the fitness of Donegal captain Michael Murphy, who performed so magnificently from the bench against Kildare in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Murphy wasn’t named in the starting XV, or indeed in the changes immediately before the throw-in. But start he did, wearing No 20 up top with Neil Gallagher, who caused devastation in the 1-19 to 0-9 All-County League win over the same opposition.
That might’ve handed St Eunan’s county centre-fielders Kavanagh, who sat between defence and midfield, and Kevin Rafferty the initiative and they were the hub of the Letterkenny side’s play.
Indeed it was Rafferty who opened the scoring after only 27 seconds and although Bonner levelled, Eugene Sullivan and Conor Gibbons pointed before Murphy slotted over a free from an infrequent Glenswilly attack to leave his side a point down. Gibbons scored at the other end, this was a stage when St Eunan’s sliced their opponents open like a knife through butter. However, six consecutive wides meant the scoreboard was not tampered with.
While St Eunan’s had all the ball, Glenswilly’s attack carried menace when the chance came their way. Twice John Paul Clarke was called into action to save excellently, first in a one-on-one with Bonner and then from Darren McGinley.
Corner-back Damien McClafferty broke the St Eunan’s stalemate when a point, but within a minute had conceded a free that Gary McFadden scored from and the same player was on the mark from another free to make it 0-5 apiece at the interval and leave those in attendance scratching their heads. St Eunan’s had hit seven wides to Glenswilly’s one. They would add three apiece in the second half.
St Eunan’s seemed to have ironed out the creases as the second half opened when David McGinley and Kieran Sharkey scored to open a two-point lead but from then on Glenswilly, with Gallagher repositioned to his normal abode, dominated the game.
Gary McFadden and Bonner brought them level and when Murphy slung over two late frees, his team were two in front. As the clock ticked down, St Eunan’s seemed to have painted themselves into a corner.
Brendan Devenney was thrown on for his first appearance in almost two years but was starved of service. When Kavanagh was dismissed following a fling and some afters with Joe Gibbons - his first yellow had been for dissent and he had been treading on thin ice on a couple of occasions - Glenswilly’s docket looked a winning one.
But, as it turned out, it wasn’t and as the respective sets of supporters took the same road home wondering what might have been, both will understand their teams have more to offer than they might’ve shown on Sunday and a replay will offer them that chance.
Glenswilly: Philip O’Donnell; Rory McDaid, Eamonn Ward, Ruairi Crawford; Joe Gibbons, James Pat McDaid, Brian ‘Shorty’ McDaid; Gary McFadden (0-3, 3f), Leon Kelly; Ciaran Bonner (0-2), Caolan Kelly, Darren McGinley; Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy (0-4, 4f), Martin McGinley. Subs: Brian Farrelly and Barry Canning for M McGinley and Crawford (31), John McFadden for JP McDaid (41), Gerard McGrenra for L Kelly (52), Kealan McFadden for C Kelly (59).
St Eunan’s: John Paul Clarke; Damien McClafferty (0-1), Michéal Martin, Adrian McClafferty; Eugene Sullivan (0-1), Eddie Brennan, Sean McVeigh (0-1); Rory Kavanagh, Kevin Rafferty (0-1); Ciaran Greene, John Haran, Conall Dunne (0-1); Kieran Sharkey (0-1), Conor Gibbons (0-2, 1f), David McGinley (0-1). Subs: Darragh Mulgrew, Sean Hensie and Conor Parke for McGinley, Sharkey and Sullivan (51), Brendan Devenney for Gibbons (53).
Referee: Robbie O’Donnell (Naomh Mhuire).
Man of the match
A lot of the prime suspects were a little off the pace so the unsung heroes stood up to the plate. John Paul Clarke’s two first half saves grew in importance the longer the game went on. Adrian and Damien McClafferty also had good games, as did Gary McFadden, Joe Gibbons and Darren McGinley.
Robbie O’Donnell’s decisions were questioned on a number of occasions, which is perhaps par for the course during a championship match, although the occasional criticism was understandable. In the end he sent Rory Kavanagh to the line but few in the St Eunan’s camp could’ve argued with the decision after a number of warnings.
Glenswilly only got into the game when Ciaran Bonner was repositioned to centre-field and having got away from the attentions of Adrian McClafferty he helped his side get a better grip on the game. The same could be said for Neil Gallagher.