By Harry Walsh in Ballybofey
NAOMH Conaill are the new Donegal U14 County champions, defeating St Eunan’s in an exciting decider played at a sun-kissed MacCumhaill Park on Wednesday evening.
It’s the first time that the U14 title has made it’s way back to the Glenties parish and hundreds of supporters and well-wishers gathered in the town to welcome manager Martin Regan, captain Jack Flannery and their heroes home.
It’s an old adage that ‘goals win games’, but it was shown to telling effect in this year’s Championship. In five outings on their way to the Southern regional final, the newly crowned champions scored 43 points, but it was in the matter of raising the green flag that they excelled. On 35 occasions they found the net as Four Masters, Bundoran, Dungloe, Aodh Ruadh and then Kilcar were put to the sword.
In the Regional final they were well beaten by local rivals Ardara (4-19 to 2-06) but with Jeaic McKelvey, David Moore and Danny Gallagher (who all missed that game) restored to the starting line-up they booked their place in the decider courtesy of another goal feast against MacCumhaills (6-05 to 2-12) in the semi-final last week.
Ryan Hunter was the flag-raiser in chief on that occasion and the Naomh Conaill midfielder was at it again in the final, netting the game’s opening goal on 10 minutes to put them four points clear (1-02 to 0-01).
St Eunan’s had opened the scoring through a Paddy McColgan free before scores from Manus McDyer and Nathan Byrne edged Naomh Conaill in front.
Hunter’s goal was followed by further points from Jack Flannery and Danny Gallagher, who like Byrne, also plays for the club’s U12 team.
Eoin McGeehin did find time and space to fire over St Eunan’s second point before Jeaic McKelvey’s opening goal and a clever score off the boot of Kealan McMonagle saw the Naomh Conaill lead stretched out to nine points (2-05 to 0-02).
Brian McGeehin’s team did manage to knock over four more points before the short whistle through substitute Niall Hannigan (2), McColgan and Shaun Curran.
However, when Nathan Byrne and Manus McDyer combined to put McKelvey through for his second goal it was the men from Glenties who went into the break eight points to the good (3-05 to 0-06).
Trailing Ardara by nine points with little more than five mines to play in the semi final a week earlier, this St Eunan’s team weren’t about to panic and so it proved.
McColgan (free) and a goal from Jerome Angel Atuahene had almost halved the deficit within ninety seconds of the restart and further points from Alex Tinney and McColgan saw the advantage clawed back to three points by the 37 minute mark.
A minute later we had a tied ball game as Matthew McGovern drew the defence before slipping a pass across to the unmarked Tinney to fire home ‘Eunan’s second goal of the final from close range.
Ryan Hunter edged Naomh Conaill back in front, firing over from in front of the posts after his initial effort had rebounded off the crossbar before the raising of the green flag twice in three minutes gave them some breathing space – scores which effectively swung the game, and title, in their favour.
First Jack Flannery produced a powerful left foot finish from twenty yards before Danny Gallagher clipped a lovely shot, also off his left foot, over Ronan McGeehin and into the St Eunan’s net.
It could have been even better for the Glenties men but another Flannery blockbuster smashed off the woodwork.
McColgan and Flannery exchanged frees before substitutes Conor O’Donnell and Hannigan and McColgan (free) added three unanswered scores but it was left to Jeaic McKelvey to complete the scoring for Naomh Conaill.
Beaten by a point by the same opponents in the U13 final twelve months earlier, this Naomh Conaill team emerged as deserving winners on Wednesday night.
The winners had leaders all over the pitch with the two Jacks, McKelvey and Flannery, lively in attack where they were ably assisted by Nathan Byrne and Danny Gallagher, both of whom are still U12.
At the other end of the pitch Cian and Odhran Doherty and Keelan McGill were solid throughout while Ryan Hunter’s ability to bag goals has been crucial this season.
Wednesday’s final proved to be a game too much for this young St Eunan’s team with their full-back Conor McWalters forced off early through injury (as he was in the semi final a week earlier).
Defenders Aaron Deeney and Donal Farren never stopped running while Paddy McColgan and substitutes Niall Hannigan and young Conor O’Donnell (U13) were the pick of their forwards.
Most importantly though, this game – and indeed the entire U14 season – has been an excellent advertisement for under age football. Well done to all concerned.
NAOMH CONAILL: Oisin McKelvey; Shane McDevitt, Cian Doherty, Conor Breslin; Keelan McGill, Odhran Doherty, Oran McDevitt; Ryan Hunter (1-01), David Moore; Jeaic McKelvey (2-02), Nathan Byrne (0-1), Kealan McMonagle (0-01); Jack Flannery ((1-02, 1 free), Danny Gallagher (1-01).
ST EUNAN’S: Ronan McGeehin; Aaron Deeney, Conor McWalters, Shane Maguire; Ryan Hilferty, Donal Farren, Darragh Morrison; Alex Tinney (1-01), Jerome Angel-Atuahene (1-00); Shaun Curran (0-01), Paddy McColgan (0-06, 4 frees), Eoin McGeehin (0-01); Michael McGrory, Eoin O’Boyle, Matthew McGovern. Subs: Niall Hannigan (0-03) for McWalters (21 mins), Sean Ryan for Morrison (24 mins), Conor O’Donnell (0-01) for Curran (51 mins).
REFEREE; Shane Toolan (Bundoran).