Naomh Conaill are champions again but this time only by a whisker

Tom Comack


Tom Comack

Naomh Conaill are champions again but this time only by a whisker

Naomh Conaill are looking forward to another All-Ireland Comórtas Peile Na Gaeltachta final weekend but not before they were given the fight of their lives by Naomh Columba in today’s Donegal final in Downings.

Naomh Conaill . . . . . . . 1-13

Naomh Columba . . . . . . . 3-6

There was just a point separating the sides at the finish as underdogs Naomh Columba gave the winners the fright of their lives.

Naomh Conaill finished the game with 13 men after Kevin McGettigan and Kieran Gallagher picked up red cards.

The champions were forced to come from four points down after 12 minutes as Naomh Columba got off to a flying start with two quick goals.

Stephen Callaghan, raiding from the half-back line, ghosted in to rattle the rigging after three minutes for the game’s first goal.

And the Division Two side raised the second green flag after 12 minutes when Paddy Byrne sent Stephen McGrath the wrong way from the penalty spot.

For the penalty Ryan McNern was taken down by Jason Campbell after good approach play from Stephen Jones. Jones, Byrne and Aaron Doherty were taking the fight to Naomh Conaill despite playing into a stiff wind.

The underdogs led 2-0 to 0-2, Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy and John O’ Malley (from a close in free) scored the early Naomh Conaill points.

Fired into action after the Byrne goal, Naomh Conaill’s response was swift and clinical and in the space of four minutes they were back on level terms as their trademark running game created the openings up front.

O’Malley sold a neat dummy before he pointed off his left foot and shortly after Molloy rounded off a sweeping move and a final ball from Jeaic MacCeallabhui for the levelling goal.

That was on 15 minutes and with Martin Regan’s men moving up through the gears Brick Molloy (2), Ultan Doherty, Marty Boyle, MacCeallabhui tagged on points to move into a five point lead (1-8 to 2-0) approaching half-time.

But Naomh Columba had the final say of the half. Aaron Doherty hit their first point on 26 minutes and Paddy Byrne added their second to make it a three point game at the break, Naomh Conaill’s lead down to 1-8 to 2-2.

Naomh Columba began the second period as they did the first with a goal. This time  Chris Byrne capitalised on a mix up in the Naomh Conaill to rattle Stephen McGrath’s net for a third time and tie up the game and level matters at 1-8 to 3-2 and with just seven minutes on the second half clock.

John O’Malley responded immediately with a point from a free to go back on front again.

But the lead was shortlived and Paddy J McGInley’s game young guns took the game to the more fancied Naomh Conaill.

Ryan Gillespie and Pauric Ward hit the target and all of a sudden Naomh Columba were back in front again, 3-4 to 1-9.

But while Naomh Conaill may have been without Eoin Waide and Brendan McDyer as well as the county contingent of Leo McLoone, Ciaran and Anthony Thompson, they are resilient.

Dermot Molloy converted from a free and then kicked a super point from play and despite losing Kevin McGettigan to a straight red card and Jeaic MacCeallabhui to a black card, John O’Malley edged Naomh Conaill two in front again, with four minutes of normal time.

McGettigan was shown red for reacting to a late challenge by Kieran McBrearty.

And with the clock ticking Pauric O’Neill and John O’Malley traded points before Ryan Gillespie brought down the curtain on the scoring deep in stoppage time.

Naomh Conaill were reduced to 13 in the closing seconds when Kieran Gallagher received a red card for a late challenge on Aaron Doherty.   

NAOMH COLUMBA: Shane O’Gara; Philip Doherty, Martin Cunningham, Kieran McBrearty; Stephen Callaghan (1-0), Fionn Gallagher, Stephen Jones; Paddy Byrne (1-1, 1-0 pen), Pauric Ward (0-1); Ryan McNern, Pauric Cunningham, Liam Boyle; Ryan Gillespie (0-2,2f), Aaron Doherty (0-1), Christopher Byrne (1-0).

Subs: Pauric O’Neill (0-1) for  Liam Boyle 52; Michael Maguire for R McNern 59 inj.

NAOMH CONAILL:  Stephen McGrath; Aaron Thompson, Jason Campbell, AJ Gallagher; Ultan Doherty (0-1), Kevin McGettigan, Marty Boyle (0-1); Ethan O’Donnell, Kieran Gallagher; Eunan Doherty, Seamus Ellis, Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí (0-1); John O’Malley (0-5,4f), Dermot ‘Brick’ Molloy (1-5,1f), Leon Thompson.

Subs: Danny Gallagher for L Thompson 45; Logan Quinn for Aaron Thompson 48; Odhran Doherty for J MacCeallabhui 55; Seamus Corcoran for J O’Malley 63.

REFEREE:  Liam McConigley (Downings).