BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN MAGHERAGALLON
GAOTH Dobhair sent St Eunan’s hurtling out of the Under 21 Championship and delivered an impressive statement of their own credentials at the same time.
They might have been clinging on for dear life at the close of a frenetic hour in Magheragallon, but this was a deserved win for Tom Beag Gillespie’s side in a cracker of a game that was a fine advertisement for a grade that has been a source of much debate in recent times.
Midfielders Cian Mulligan and Odhrán MacNiallais led the way for the victors, but they were aided by determined performances all over the field in an all-action evening out west that sets up a quarter-final clash with MacCumhaills.
That St Eunan’s were within striking distance at the end was down to Barry McGeehin’s late goal, netted after Conor Gibbons floated a free into a crowded goalmouth. But Gaoth Dobhair could see the winning post, with Matthew Harkin’s superb goal at the end of the first half being followed by a second major, netted by the outstanding Mulligan in the seventh minute of the second half.
Gaoth Dobhair had eight different players on the scoreboard while Eunan’s will reflect on a night that just didn’t go their way, with Conor Gibbons contributing seven points, yet was still not allowed the freedom to dictate with a hard-working Gaoth Dobhair half-back line restricting St Eunan’s marquee names.
Mulligan was one of seven members of the Donegal U17 squad that won the Jim McGuigan Cup at the weekend to feature here – and his was a performance of real influence, scoring 1-4 and only denied a second goal by a fine save from Aidan Simmons.
Beside him, MacNiallais had a real touch of class at times, the few months of involvement on the Donegal senior panel clearly showing on a player Eamon McGee said earlier this year was ‘one of the most naturally talented footballers there is’.
Eunan’s were big favourites coming into the game and they led 0-4 to 0-1 by the 12th minute with the returned Gibbons getting the opening score with Lee McMonagle, Callum Keaveney and Darragh Mulgrew on the mark.
Gaoth Dobhair were having something of a frustrating beginning with Gavin McBride’s free their only response in that period.
But the Gaeltacht boys found their feet, scoring four points in a whirlwind two minutes, Micheál Roarty, Mulligan, McBride and Tiarnan O’Dea on the mark to put them in front.
Twice Gibbons levelled but each time Gaoth Dobhair responded with Mulligan and Ryan Ferry clipping over. In the final minute of the opening period, Gaoth Dobhair lit the fuse when Harkin brilliantly blasted to the top corner, his super strike giving Simmons no chance.
Mulgrew and Gibbons (2) had Eunan’s back to within a point by the fourth minute of the second half, but Gaoth Dobhair weren’t going to buckle and when Mulligan tucked home their second goal – shooting in a rebound after his initial effort had been blocked – it was Gaoth Dobhair who had the stack of chips at their side.
Gibbons kept Eunan’s in touch, but Mulligan and James Coyle helped open up a five-point lead midway through the half. Ten minutes from time Mulligan went for a second goal, but Simmons turned his effort over the bar.
When MacNiallais curled over a free, Gaoth Dobhair were six in front. Eunan’s were in trouble but the Letterkenny lads (crucially, without the Caolan Ward, who is still in America and was a big loss here) found the lifeline as McGeehin fired home from close range.
When Conor Parke knocked over, the natives were restless but, with Mulligan, MacNiallais, McBride and Roarty’s strong presence felt just when they needed them, Gaoth Dobhair held on for an inspired win with Eunan’s left stunned.
GAOTH DOBHAIR: Charlie Doherty; Jamie Reynolds, Proinnsias Ó Gallchoir, James Coyle (0-1); Caoilte Ó Baoill, Ciaran Gillespie, Joe Blair; Cian Mulligan (1-4), Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1, 1f); Micheál Roarty (0-1), Tiarnan O’Dea (0-1), Ryan Ferry (0-1); Matthew Harkin (1-0), Gavin McBride (0-2, 1f), Niall Friel. Subs: Micheál Ó Gallchoir for Roarty (21 mins), Micheál Roarty for Ferry (half-time).
ST EUNAN’S: Aidan Simmons; Connall O’Boyle, Conor Parke (0-1), Mark Forde; Conor Harley (0-1), Conor O’Donnell, Oisin Carr; Darragh Mulgrew (0-2), Ciaran Greaney; Barry McGeehin (1-0), Conor Gibbons (0-7, 3f), Conor McEniff; Callum Keaveney (0-1), Lee McMonagle (0-1), David Tyrell. Subs: Michael Miller for Keaveney (half-time), Jordan McBride for Forde (54 mins).
REFEREE: Liam McConigley (Fanad Gaels).
DUNGLOE advanced to the next round of the U-21 Championship defeating St John’s 0-13 to 0-10 in their replay. Conor Greene hit four points in the first half as Dungloe led 0-8 to 0-5, with Chris McGlynn chipping in with a couple of points. McGlynn, Greene and David McCarron stretched their lead at the outset of part two, but Hugh McFadden, Alan Lyons and Cian Kennedy were keeping St John’s in touch. Christopher Cunningham was denied by ‘keeper Ben Boyle late in the day and Dungloe go through following a three-point win.
There were goals galore in Milford, but no joy for the home side as Four Masters scored a 4-16 to 2-7 win to move into a clash with Cloughaneely. Gavin Bennett scored two second-half goals with Dillon Muldoon and Darragh Doogan also netting. Tony McNamee scored both of Milford’s goals, the second of them a penalty.
U21 ‘A’ Championship: Dungloe 0-13 St John’s 0-10; Gaoth Dobhair 2-11 St Eunan’s 1-13; Milford 2-07 Four Masters 4-16
U21 ‘B’ Championship: Buncrana 4-17 Lifford 0-08; Carndonagh 1-10 Aodh Ruadh 2-11; Urris 4-11 Robert Emmets 2-06