Gweedore Celtic 1 Glenea United 1
(after extra time. Glenea win 4-2 on penalties)
BY AIDAN O’DONNELL
18-YEAR-OLD Goalkeeper Shaun McClafferty was the hero for Glenea United as they ended their eight-year wait for Donegal League glory after overcoming last season’s winners Gweedore Celtic in a dreaded penalty-shootout in Ballyare yesterday evening.
Eighteen league games failed to separate the two northwest rivals and after a 110 ten minutes of action failed to produce a winner in the play-off for the Premier League title, which was played in monsoon-like conditions, it was finally down to the lottery of spot-kicks.
Barry McGinley and Donal Coll scored either side of a Eugene McBride penalty but when McClafferty saved from Kevin Friel, Glenea had the upper hand.
Captain Ryan McFadden then made it 3-1 to Glenea and although Paul ‘Rua’ McBride kept Gweedore’s chances alive, Patrick McGee made it 4-2 before McClafferty pulled off another save to deny Fionnan Diver and, in doing so, capture Glenea’s first Donegal League title since 2004 when they won three in a row.
Gweedore were gunning for their second league title in as many seasons but Hughie Gallagher’s side, who scored 62 league goals over the course of the year, failed to penetrate the rigid Glenea defence on a day of very few clear-cut chances.
The weather meant it was no day for the purists and aesthetic football, but rather whoever posed the greater threat from set-pieces would, in all likelihood, prevail.
Early on, it seemed Glenea, with a huge crosswind playing in their favour, were going for the jugular and their 8 corners to Gweedore’s none was a measure of their first-half dominance.
Their very first, by left-winger Darren McGeever, almost yielded the opener after five minutes, but Gweedore netminder Michael McKelvey re-adjusted his body shape to acrobatically palm the ball away to safety.
Jamie Boyle then produced a brilliant covering tackle to stop McGeever in his tracks, but on eighteen minutes the Glenea left-winger got the better of his counterpart to break the deadlock.
A ball through from Ryan McFadden was initially dealt with by Boyle but McGeever dispossessed the full-back before curling a delicate shot into the far corner off the outside of his left boot past McKelvey, who couldn’t get quite enough purchase to keep out it.
After a fairly one-sided opening half an hour, Gweedore eventually grabbed a foothold in the game and it needed a brave block by centre-half Paul Sweeney to stop Tomas Diver from testing McClafferty.
The Glenea goalkeeper was then called into action for the first time in the game on thirty-eight minutes as Gweedore registered their first shot on target – a low drive by Fionnan Diver which McClafferty steered behind for a corner.
With the wind against them in the second half, Glenea might’ve been forgiven for thinking they’d be under the cosh after the restart, but Gweedore struggled to really overwhelm their dogged opponents.
Eamonn Cannon wasted a good chance early on, ballooning a fifteen-yard effort high and wide following a brilliant flick-on by Diver, while, at the other end, Barry McGinley tested McKelvey’s grip with a stinging low drive from distance.
The reigning champions then drew level twelve minutes into the second half when a David Ward corner – Gweedore’s first of the game – flew straight over the head of McClafferty at the back post, the deceptive flight of the ball causing mayhem for the Glenea number one.
Both sides struggled for continuity in the blustering conditions and although Gweedore had the wind on their backs, the Derrybeg outfit were unable to exert a sustained period of dominance in both the possession and territory stakes.
The lively Ryan McFadden threatened to restore Glenea’s advantage, the forward forcing a save from McKelvey with an ambitious long-range drive before forcing Paul ‘Rua’ McBride into a superb last-ditch tackle late in the game.
Meanwhile, at the other end, McClafferty spilled a Fionnan Diver corner but managed to gather at the second attempt, while Colin Ferry was inches away from putting his side in the lead with a thumping twenty-five yard piledriver that flew just past the left upright.
Gweedore then had a shout for a penalty waved away in the last minute of normal time, with O’Sullivan feeling strongly that Sweeney handled the ball inside the area, only for referee Mick Lagan and his assistant Paddy Martin to think otherwise.
And so after the sides finished level on points during the regular season, it wasn’t much of a surprise that extra-time was needed to separate the best two sides in the Donegal League following a gruelling ninety minutes in unforgiving conditions.
Gweedore replacement Ciaran McFadden had the two best chances of extra-time but was denied by a combination of Patrick McGee and McClafferty three minutes into the first period before McClafferty put his body in the way again to thwart the striker midway through the second half.
Penalties then followed and McClafferty emerged the hero with two saves to deny Kevin Friel and Fionnan Diver as Glenea dethroned their neighbours to climb back to the summit of the Donegal League.
Gweedore Celtic: Michael McKelvey; Jamie Boyle, David McGee, Paul ‘Rua’ McBride, David Ward; Fionnan Diver, Damian O’Sullivan, Eamonn Cannon, Eugene McBride, Colin Ferry; Tomas Diver. Subs: Ciaran McFadden for Ferry (83 mins), Kevin Friel for Boyle (109 mins).
Glenea United: Shaun McClafferty; Kevin McFadden, Paul Sweeney, Patrick McGee, Barry McGinley; Sean Coll, Shaun Maguire, Brian Cuffe, Darren McGeever; Michael Barry, Ryan McFadden. Subs: Donal Coll for Barry (90 mins), John Harley for S. Coll (95 mins).
Referee: Mick Lagan.
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