Gaoth Dobhair captain Niall Friel admitted that he was unsure about how exactly his team managed to grind their way past St Mary’s Aghagallon on Sunday, but he was just relieved to see his side’s name in the semi-final draw.
The Magheragallon men went into the game without arguably their two best players (Kieran Gillespie and Cian Mulligan), and they were then reduced to 14 men before half-time when county under 21 player Gavin McBride was sent off.
Friel himself had to sit out the final quarter after picking up an injury, but Gaoth Dobhair still managed to force their way past the Antrim side.
“It was very difficult,” Friel explained.
“Going into the game we knew Kieran Gillespie was going to be missing, and then yesterday, Cian Mulligan pulled up and that meant we were without him too.
“It didn’t go our way at all in the first half. They got the goal and then Gavin was sent off.
“We were lucky enough to go in at half-time even. We were in that situation before earlier in the season against Dungloe when we went a man down, although it didn’t come that early.
“We got in and regrouped and I suppose in the second half we dictated the play.
“I don’t know what got us over the line in the end up, but lucky enough we managed to get the win.”
Gaoth Dobhair faced an uphill challenge when they ran out for the second half, but they were determined to take control of proceedings themselves, instead of being dictated to by St Mary’s.
“Even when it was 15 against 15, they were playing very defensive and we kind of played into their system in the first half by running through the middle and getting turned over, and then they countered.
“We just said at half-time, why should we play on their terms?
“We came out and played on our terms. We had comfortable players on the ball out the pitch, and we just knew that we could draw them out and pick off the scores.
“Defensively we were fairly sound, although we did get caught for their goal when our concentration let us down.”
The running power of Michael Carroll and cousins Naoise and Daire Ó Baoill was integral to Gaoth Dobhair’s fine second half showing, but it wasn’t just those players who performed well according to Friel.
“The three lads are going well up at county training and we needed them.
“We were missing four players – Kieran (Gillespie), Cian (Mulligan), Gavin (McBride) was sent off and then I had to go off injured.
“Those three stepped it up, but it just wasn’t them. Aodhan Ferry put in a serious shift there, Conor Boyle worked hard.
“Gary (McFadden) was excellent at full-back and every one of our 14 men gave it everything in that second half to get over the line.
Gaoth Dobhair’s prize for winning is a semi-final against reigning champions Watty Graham’s.
With all of their starting line-up underage again next season, Friel and his teammates will be fancied to make it back to Creggan in 12 months time.
However, the captain is only looking as far ahead as next Sunday and they will give it their all against the Derry champions.
“We’re looking forward to it. We missed out at minor level, and maybe we’re in a year early with this team, but we don’t know if we’ll be here next year, so we’ll just give it 110%.”
THIS Sunday's Paddy McLarnon Cup Final will signal the end of one of Gaoth Dobhair's best ever underage sides.