Even though both teams still have two games left to play in Group B of the Senior Championship, the importance of getting off to a good start was pretty obvious as these sides served up an enthralling affair at O’Donnell Park on Sunday evening.
St. Eunan’s . . . 1-6
Gaoth Dobhair . . . 0-10
Long before throw-in, the tension between both camps was mounting with pushing and shoving among opposition players on the practice pitch.
Then as the teams came out on the field, there were angry exchanges among members of the backroom teams.
It’s a rivalry that goes back a long number of years, and it was documented in a special article in the match programme.
The big crowd in attendance at O’Donnell Park would have been anticipating another feisty encounter - and they weren’t to be disappointed.
In the end, Gaoth Dobhair managed to fashion a win that could be just the catalyst they need to go on and qualify from this group.
That St. Eunan’s failed to score for 29 minutes of the second half was one of the big talking points of a fascinating encounter. And while the game was physical, it wasn’t a dirty encounter, although there were four sendings off with Odhran MacNiallais and Rory Carr (St. Eunan’s) sent off for two bookings and Sean Hensey (St. Eunan’s) and James Carroll (Gaoth Dobhair) each shown a straight red late on.
The visitors, recently crowned Division One league champions, were fancied by many to turn St. Eunan’s over on their own patch. Gaoth Dobhair’s defensive approach meant that St. Eunan’s saw an awful lot of possession with the Gaeltacht men happy to depend on turnovers to hit St. Eunan’s on the break.
It was a tactic that at times worked very well in a closely fought first half. There were some fine scores taken by both teams with the final point of the half, a wonderful effort from Cian Mulligan, the best.
That brought Gaoth Dobhair to within a point of their opponents, 1-5 to 0-7.
The St. Eunan’s goal had come within six minutes. Gaoth Dobhair defender Christopher McFadden was guilty of a reckless haul on Conor Morrison and the ice-cool Niall O’Donnell fired home a superbly placed penalty.
O’Donnell, who kicked 0-9 when these sides met in last year’s Senior Championship Quarter-Final, was again a major influence for St. Eunan’s in the first half. Along with the roving Conor Parke and the excellent Caolan Ward, O’Donnell was a key man for the home side who played well in the first 30 minutes.
Conor O’Donnell also hit two fine scores for St. Eunan’s but the home side will have been frustrated at their inability to open up any sort of notable lead.
Odhran MacNiallais hit three first half points for Gaoth Dobhair while Eamon McGee, deployed in attack in the first half alongside another veteran, Kevin Cassidy, was his usual busy self and he was also among his team’s first half scorers.
Just as he did in the early moments of the game, Naoise O’Baoill took a fine point for Gaoth Dobhair three minutes after the restart. That score was followed by a well-worked effort from Niall Friel and all of a sudden, Gaoth Dobhair were a point to the good, 0-9 to 1-5.
They added another point through MacNiallais but that was the last positive contribution from the county man who then in the space of just over three minutes, picked up two yellow cards for tackles on Oisin Toal and substitute Peter McEniff.
With an extra man, the pendulum probably should have swung in favour of St. Eunan’s, but Gaoth Dobhair seemed to relish the challenge of playing with 14.
Mind you the dismissal of Rory Carr for a second yellow evened things up on that front.
Niall O’Donnell kicked a free on 59 minutes to bring just a point between them - 0-10 to 1-6. Amazingly that was the home side’s first score of the half.
The same player then saw an injury time free from way out on the right clip a post as Gaoth Dobhair just about hung on for what could prove to be a vital win.
St. Eunan’s: Shaun Patton; Oisin Toal, Sean Hensey, Conor Parke; Darragh Mulgrew, Conor Morrison, Aaron Deeney; Rory Kavanagh, Eamon Doherty; Sean McVeigh (0-1), Conor O’Donnell (0-2), Caolan Ward; Rory Carr (0-1), Niall O’Donnell (1-2, 2f), Conor Gibbons.
Subs: Peter McEniff for Toal (37), Michael Miller for Conor Morrison (47, black card), Ross Wherity for Gibbons (52), Conor O’Donnell for McVeigh (57).
Gaoth Dobhair: Christopher Sweeney; Christopher McFadden, Odhran McFadden-Ferry, Gary McFadden; Niall Friel (0-1), Neil McGee, Daire Ó Baoill; Kieran Gillespie (0-1), Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-4, 3f); Dan McBride, Eamon Collum, Naoise Ó Baoill (0-2); Eamon McGee (0-1), Kevin Cassidy, Cian Mulligan (0-1).
Subs: Michael Carroll for E Collum (24), James Carroll for McBride (37), Gavin McBride for Cassidy (52).
Referee: Jimmy White (Killybegs)