THEY were partying on the streets of Glenties this week, after Naomh Conaill claimed the Donegal SFC for the third time.
It wasn’t a great final, but the closeness of it meant that it was still an intriguing watch. There were some good passages of play and a few excellent scores, but there were a lot of errors from both sides.
For the majority of the game, it looked like it St Eunan’s were poised to defend their title, but you have to hand it to Naomh Conaill. They were the team that wanted it the most in the final 20 minutes.
Sometimes you need a catalyst to really get a team going, and that appeared to be the sending off last Sunday.
The Naomh Conaill players probably felt the decision was unjust and they really lifted their game.
Eunan’s had a late chance to grab a draw but Conall Dunne hammered the ball wide. If St Eunan’s manager Maxi Curran could have picked anyone to be in that situation at the death, he probably would have selected Dunne.
He is usually so composed on the ball, but in the white heat of battle, he made the wrong decision.
A couple of minutes before that, Naomh Conaill were in a similar position, but Leon Thompson didn’t risk the shot. He held onto the ball until the opportunity arose, and fed Johnny McLoone, who slotted over with ease.
There was little between the teams at the start, but a purple patch before half-time put St Eunan’s in front, and they were maintaining that lead up until Eoghan McGettigan’s sending-off.
The referee had a decent game overall, but I felt he got the red card call wrong. I thought it was very difficult to pinpoint any player in the scuffle that broke out.
It was tough on young Eoghan and Naomh Conaill were really up against it. To rub salt into their wounds, they had another two men booked, while St Eunan’s went unpunished, which was truly bizarre. It takes two to tango, and all that!
Andrew Mullin took advice from his umpires and his linesmen, but that was a strange outcome to find. It had a real bearing on the game, as it sparked Naomh Conaill into life.
Leo McLoone in particular, was outstanding in the final twenty minutes. He was the Naomh Conaill captain and he led by example.
Martin Regan will be chuffed with the triumph in his first season as manager, and he will receive plenty of plaudits for the use of his bench.
Seamus Corcoran did well and made one vital interception to stop John Haran from racing in on goal.
Johnny McLoone was a calming influence, while Ethan O’Donnell packed a lot into his eight minute cameo role. He was involved in two points and his directness caused huge problems for the Letterkenny side.
On the other hand, the St Eunan’s subs just didn’t work. Cillian Morrison has been playing for Derry City all year and it was a surprise to see him introduced for Conor Gibbons.
He only lasted two minutes before he was black-carded. He hasn’t played much football this year, and maybe he wasn’t fully up to speed about how careful you need to be to make sure you don’t body-check your opponents.
We always hear about the great resources St Eunan’s have and the strength of their panel. But when Maxi Curran had to decide who to replace Morrison with, he opted to throw Gibbons back into the cauldron instead of a fresh man.
Glenties held St Eunan’s to ten points which was an impressive feat, considering that their full-back line is very inexperienced. Aaron Thompson and AJ Gallagher would have played reserves for most of their careers.
Aaron got off to a shaky start, but I thought he was one of the better players on the field in the second half. He went forward and kicked what proved to be the winning score.
He is 32, and has only been playing senior football for two years. It goes to show if you keep at it and work hard you can get the rewards.
It was a huge day for the Thompson family as they contributed four players to a championship winning team. Their parents Tony and Mary, must have been bursting with pride on Sunday evening.
Eoin Waide was on the Donegal panel before and kind of dropped off the radar for a bit, but he was brilliant in the final.
Ciaran Thompson drifted in and out of proceedings, but he came good when they needed him. He will learn from his battle with Rory Kavanagh.
Brendy McDyer has been on the sidelines for the past two months, but he came back in on Sunday and kicked two vital points.
Kavanagh showed well for St Eunan’s in the first half, and Kevin Rafferty was to the fore as well.
From Rory Gallagher’s point of view, the man that probably would have impressed the most was Caolan Ward.
He was the driving force behind St Eunan’s in the second half, and I believe he is a player who is ready to step up to senior inter-county football.
I know he missed two games when he was in Philadelphia, but for me, Ward was probably the player of the championship.
St Eunan’s will be disappointed. They had the opportunities and didn’t make the most of their numerical advantage.
You have to hand it to Regan and Cathal Corey. They had their homework done and deserved their victory.
They go on to face Trillick now and I did say last week that whoever came out on top could have a big say in the Ulster Club Championship, and I think Naomh Conaill are good enough to give it a rattle.
All-|reland Gaeltacht Finals
Naomh Conaill are back out this weekend in the rearranged All-Ireland Gaeltacht final against Kilcar.
It will be interesting to see how Naomh Conaill approach it. Do they try and get their main team back out on the field after a heavy week of celebrations, or do they give a few of the fringe players a chance to impress?
When the game was originally fixed for June, I would have said that Kilcar were favourites, but Naomh Conaill have pushed on since that, and as long as they don’t make wholesale changes to their team, I think they will win.
Downings face the Aran Islands in the Junior final, and much like Kilcar, the Rosguill men were flying back in the summer, but have struggled of late.
I expected Downings to win the Junior Championship and they didn’t do that. Lorcan Connor has picked up an injury and he won’t be operating at 100% this week. Downings were beaten by Burt last week and they will be up against it on Saturday.
It’s good for the Ardara club that the finals are going to take place and hopefully we will get two decent games.
Intermediate Championship Final
The Intermediate Championship final takes place this Sunday at O’Donnell Park, and it is a novel pairing between Naomh Colmcille and Bundoran.
Newtown really impressed in the semi-final against a seasoned Fanad side that probably fancied their chances of winning the Intermediate this year.
Francie Martin has good pedigree at this level and he seems to have got the best out of Naomh Colmcille.
Ryan McKinley has been a key man for them in the championship, while young lads like Michael Lynch and Daniel Clarke have caught the eye.
Willie Gillespie was on the Donegal senior squad this year and he is a very good player. They will need a big performance from him, if they are to win.
Former Donegal player Thomas McKinley was playing for Naomh Colmcille earlier in the season, before emigrating to Australia and I wonder will he decide at the eleventh hour to come home for the big game?
Bundoran are favourites and you’d have to expect them to do the business.
They have experienced players like the Keeney brothers, Christy and James, while Shane McGowan is a fine player.
Former Leitrim player Paul Brennan has transferred in from Melvin Gaels and by all accounts has done very well for Brian Gavigan’s team this year.
Jamie Brennan has been on fire and he is going to take some watching. I have been coaching Jamie since he was 16 and he is a good player, with a good attitude, and a real eye for goal.
I don’t think Naomh Colmcille will have anyone to mark him, and that could be the difference on Sunday.
I’m looking forward to it and I expect Bundoran to be celebrating when the final whistle blows.
I’d like to wish Darach O’Connor the best of luck with his recovery after he had surgery on his cruciate on Wednesday. Hopefully we will see him back out on the field scoring goals again at some point next season.