A penalty from Tomas Boyle with three minutes of normal time left was enough to give Ardara another day out in the U-21 championship in a very close encounter in Fintra on Friday evening.
Naomh Conaill 2-6
Extra time was planned but in the fading light it was never an option and referee Michael McShane, after consulting with the other officials, made the sensible decision to call a halt.
The draw was a very fair ending to a game that was entertaining if not of a high quality.
Ardara edged the possession stakes over the hour, but they were hit with a scoring blitz between the 19th and 24th minute of the opening half which almost decided this game.
At that stage Ardara were leading comfortably by 0-4 to 0-1 but two goals inside 30 seconds and two points for good measure put the Glenties men five points in front.
But despite having chances, they never really built on that lead and even with the wind at their backs in the second half, could only manage to tag on three more points to their tally.
The Ardara side had the benefit of the stiff breeze in the first half, even though it was partly diagonal and they were on the scoreboard early with Aaron Bennett pointing a free and Joseph McLoughlin adding another from play.
Hughie Gallagher had Naomh Conaill’s first point in the ninth minut but it was Ardara who were doing most of the attacking and they had further points from Harry Hennigan and Aaron Bennett to go 0-4 to 0-1 clear with 15 minutes gone.
The turnaround came in the 19th minute and there was a taste of what was to come a minute earlier when Dermot Brick Molloy was almost in but on his weaker right side, his effort hit the sidenetting.
But almost immediately a great run from Jamie McHugh saw the Ardara defence opened and McHugh slipped the ball to Ciaran Thompson who slide the ball home for the equaliser.
Worse was to follow from the kick-out as Dermot Molloy tore through and fired home a second goal.
Points from Mark Gallagher in the 20th minute and John O’Malley four minutes later completely changed the game and it seemed as if the Naomh Conaill men, U-21 specialists in recent years, were on their way.
But before half-time Tomas Boyle hit two wonderful frees from distance which reduced the margin to three and gave the Ardara side hope as they went to the dressing room just three points adrift, 2-3 to 0-6.
The second half was more cagey but when Naomh Conaill went five clear again through John O’Malley (free) and Cathal Ellis with a great score from near the sideline on 41 minutes, the mountain seemed to be much too steep for Ardara to climb.
But, as we have seen in the past, Ardara do not give in easily and especially against their near neighbours.
In the final quarter they began chipping away with Aaron Bennett pointing a ‘45’ and also pointing a free.
Dermot Molloy won and pointed a free with ten minutes left but Tomas Boyle cancelled that score with a free at the other end.
Then with three minutes left a long range free from Boyle landed in the danger area and Michael Maloney was on to the break and was fouled to give Ardara a penalty.
From the spot, Boyle was clinical, firing to the keeper’s left to tie up the game.
There was plenty of tension in the remaining minutes and the four minutes of added time. John O’Malley had a chance a minute into added time but it was on his wrong foot and drifted wide, while Ardara had two chances with Aaron Bennett just a foot wide with an effort while Joseph McLaughlin also had another good chance with what proved the last kick of the game.
Overall, it was a very enjoyable game and although it will give the fixtures committee a headache (with county panellist Dermot Molloy in the mix), the replay should attrack another bumper attendance.
The contest between Kevin Breslin and Dermot Molloy was very good to watch while Patrick Whyte, Aaron Bennett, Michael Maloney, Kevin Herron and Tomas Boyle were excellent for Ardara.
Apart from Molloy, who was starved of possession in the opening half, Jason Campbell, the Ellis’s, Eunan Doherty and John O’Malley were best for Naomh Conaill.
Ardara: Aidan Shovlin; Sean McLoughlin, Neil Campbell, Patrick Whyte; Nicholas Breslin, Kevin Breslin, Calvin Slowey; Stephen McCahill; Harry Hennigan (0-1), Eamon Breslin, Tomas Boyle (1-3,3f,pen); Joseph McLoughlin (0-1), Aaron Bennett (0-4,2f,45), Michael Maloney.
Naomh Conaill: Ronan O’Donnell; Seamus Campbell, Jason Campbell, Ciaran Quinn; Seamus Ellis, James Doherty, Hughie Gallagher (0-1); Ciaran Thompson (1-0), Cathal Ellis (0-1); Mark Gallagher (0-1), Eunan Doherty, Christopher Molloy; Jamie McHugh, John O’Malley (0-2,1f), Dermot Molloy (1-1,0-1f).
Referee: Michael McShane (Kilcar).
Man of the Match
The award goes to Tomas Boyle who stepped up to the mark for Ardara when he was really needed. His two pointed frees just before the break were vital in keeping Ardara in the game after being blitzed by Naomh Conaill and he also hit the last 1-1 which finally got Ardara back on level terms close to the end.
That 2-2 by Naomh Conaill in five minutes in the second quarter was certainly a big turning point as it turned a three point deficit into a five point lead. But the penalty won by Michael Maloney with three minutes of normal time left was ultimately the big turning point.
A very good display from Michael McShane. He was in total control throughout and penalies players for dissent by moving the ball on. He was also in constant contact with the players informing them of what frees and ticks were for and he seemed to be getting a positive response from the players.