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Darach O’Connor inspires Donegal to Ulster VS title

Delight for Donegal as they defeat Cavan for the Ulster Vocational Schools title

Delight for Donegal as they defeat Cavan for the Ulster Vocational Schools title

DONEGAL 3-13 CAVAN 1-13

REPORT BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT BREWSTER PARK

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DARACH O’Connor came off the bench to help steer Donegal to their fourth Ulster Vocational Schools title in a row, their fifteenth in all.

The Buncrana man, a recent call-up to Jim McGuinness’s Donegal senior squad, was on the field for only sixteen minutes – but was the difference between the sides, even with Donegal having lost Christian Bonner to a harsh sending off in the 46th minute.

‘Jigger’, as he goes, cracked home a pair of goals after setting up the opener for Jamie Brennan.

It was a clear demonstration of that lightening-quick and deadly talent that has caught McGuinness’s eye. There had been only two points between the teams when O’Connor was called into action. By the conclusion, he had been the match winner.

It was from O’Connor’s clever pass across the goal face that Jamie Brennan was able to steer into the unguarded net for Donegal’s opening goal just after his introduction.

O’Connor – the 2013 Donegal Minor captain – had missed Donegal’s landslide win over Tyrone in the semi-final, but the diminutive attacker was in clinical form here after his introduction.

Eight minutes from the end, O’Connor burst clear and, despite having his initial effort saved by Keelan O’Connell, O’Connor tucked the rebound beneath the ‘keeper to the net.

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GAA_Ulster Vocational Schools Final_Donegal v Cavan_Brewster ParCavan had bit back and threatened to set up something of a nervous conclusion for Donegal when sub Sean Keating slapped to the net, but O’Connor made the win safe.

Having curled over two points, the second a sublime effort, on the turn after collecting possession around 40 metres from the target.

Then, O’Connor sped away from Andrew Cusack-Smith. Leaving the Cavan man in his slipstream, O’Connor cracked a magnificent effort into the far corner of the Breffni net; the game’s champagne moment to conclude one of the memorable cameo appearances.

Donegal have a proud record in this competition and came into this week’s final having won the previous three titles.

It took O’Connor’s introduction to make safe the win, though, for Cavan had mounted a comeback.

O’Connor, David McCarron and Lee O’Brien are the sole survivors from last year’s panel to see action in this week’s final, though Cian Mulligan who played last year was an unused sub here.

Donegal manager Seosamh Mac Ceallabhuí made just one change from the side that hammered Tyrone in the semi-final.

Naomh Conaill’s exciting Ethan O’Donnell replaced Micheál Langan in the Tír Chonaill attack.

O’Donnell was at the hub for Donegal in the early exchanges, shining almost as bright as those luminous yellow boots.

It was from his incision with only 25 seconds gone that Donegal got in for a goal chance right from the off, but Conor Doherty was thwarted at the vital moment by Cavan goalkeeper Keelan O’Connell.

O’Donnell got on the scoresheet with a well-taken point in the seventh minute, after John Campbell was given a point from a free that had appeared to tail just wide.

Cavan hit back with points from Evan Doughty and Sean Reilly to level it up, only for Donegal to hit a mini purple patch.

Darren Curran and Campbell were on the mark before Bonner arrowed over a fine score from the left-hand side to open up a four-point lead.

Bryan Magee and Adam O’Reilly managed to get through the Donegal blanket for scores, but the Breffni boys were being increasingly frustrated by the industrious Donegal lads.

Bonner helped link the play from that sweeper’s role he plays so effectively, with Lee O’Brien, Darren Curran and Tony McClenaghan providing a neat launchpad from the half-back line.

O’Donnell ended the half as he had began it, teeing up Campbell for a well-taken score and another point from the big Buncrana man, this time after collecting a loose ball around 30 metres from goal, sent Donegal for the refreshments leading 0-8 to 0-4.

Conor Bradley (2), Cathal Maguire, Evan Doughty and James Brady brought Cavan to within two – but O’Connor came on to seal the deal and keep the silverware in Donegal for the fourth year in a row.

DONEGAL: Paddy Byrne; Dylan Kennedy, Kevin McGettigan, John McDyre; Lee O’Brien, Tony McClenaghan, Darren Curran (0-1); Dylan Ward, Caolan McGettigan; Christian Bonner (0-1), John Campbell (0-4, 1f), Conor Doherty (0-1); David McCarron (0-1), Ethan O’Donnell (0-1), Jamie Brennan (1-2). Subs: Niall Friel for O’Brien (37 mins), Darach O’Connor (2-2) for Ward (43 mins), Fintan O’Flynn for O’Connor (59 mins), Caolan Loughrey for Brennan (60 mins).

CAVAN: Kealan O’Connell; Joseph O’Connell, Cormac Daly, Dean McCarthy; Andrew Cusack-Smith, Mark Magee, Eoin Sommerville (0-1); Sean McDermott, Conor Flanagan; Cathal Maguire (0-1), Conor Bradley (0-3, 1f), Sean Reilly (0-1); Bryan Magee (0-1), Evan Doughty (0-2), Adam O’Reilly (0-2, 1f). Subs: Gary Tiernan for O’Connell (22 mins), Benjamin Kelly for Flanagan (half-time), Noel Lynch (0-1) for McCarthy (41 mins), James Brady (0-1) for Maguire (42 mins), Sean Keating (1-0) for Doughty (57 mins).

REFEREE: Dermot Love (Fermanagh)

THE GAME AT A GLANCE

Man of the Match
Darach O’Connor (Donegal): How does scoring 2-2 and setting up another goal sound for a sixteen-minute appearance? Without having the Buncrana lad in reserve, Donegal mightn’t have topped the tree here. As good an impact sub as you’ll see.
Up to his red card, Christian Bonner was excellent, controlling the tempo and being a fine link between defence and offence.

Turning Point
Cavan pulled the deficit back to four points when Sean Keating netted – but O’Connor’s second goal ended any hopes of them mounting a late comeback.

The Whistler
Dermot Love was a peripheral figure for long spells, but Christian Bonner felt his wrath when, in the 46th minute, the Na Rossa man was red carded, shown a second yellow card for dissent.

Terrace Talk
An old bug bearer now, but consider that this was an inter-county final and neither side saw fit to line out with their players wearing the numbers beside which they were listed. It really shouldn’t be so complicated…

What’s Next?
The million dollar question as regards this competition’s future is concerned. Its demise has been rapid and, in his programme notes for the game, Ulster Vocational Schools President Hugh Clerkin said: “The reality that this could be the last inter-county game played in the province is indeed a sad possibility.”

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