Michael Carroll produced a man-of-the-match performance to inspire Gaoth Dobhair to victory against O’Donovan Rossa on Saturday in the Ulster Under 21 Club Tournament Preliminary Round.
After the match, the neutrals in attendance were full of praise for the rangy midfielder, who was involved in almost everything Gaoth Dobhair did well.
It wasn’t a vintage performance from Tom ‘Beag’ Gillespie’s side, but Carroll was glad to make it through to the last eight.
“It was a good win in tough enough conditions. There was a wind blowing across the field, and we got off to a very slow start. We were 1-1 to a point down after 15 minutes.
“We dug deep and got into it towards the end of the first half and we had a good second half performance when we kept picking them off on the counter. We’re happy enough.”
Carroll pointed to the long lay-off since their county final win, and the fact that Rossa employed a number of sweepers as reasons for their slow start.
However, they came good towards the end of the half to lead by three at the interval, and the result was never in doubt when Carroll hit the net himself in the 39th minute with a ferocious drive from 20 metres.
“I tried to get power on it and luckily enough it went in top corner. I’ll leave it for everyone else to decide if I meant it or not,” he quipped.
Gaoth Dobhair tagged on two more goals, and Carroll says they were more than happy to use their know-how to slow down the play and work the handy score late in the match when Rossa couldn’t get the ball off them.
It was a convincing win, which was made all the more impressive when you consider that Cian Mulligan, Kieran Gillespie, Seaghan Ferry, Gary McFadden, Conor Boyle, Aodhan Ferry, and James Ó Baoill didn’t feature.
Gaoth Dobhair had to call upon some of their fringe players, and Carroll felt they impressed.
“We knew we were missing boys so everyone had the mentality that we had to perform or we would be dumped out.
“We had a blow as well because Seaghan Ferry and Gary McFadden had exams today in Dublin, and they didn’t make it.
“But we have a great bunch of young lads there who are around 17 or 18.
“They were unlucky to be beat by Milford in the minor semi-final this year, and Tom has really nursed them through the years, and we have a few good players coming through.”
Gaoth Dobhair now march into the quarter-finals of the competition and they face Donaghmoyne at the same venue next Sunday.
He said: “It will be tougher. Last year, we had the Antrim champions in the quarter-final and it was the same sort of start as today. We made a slow start and then dug deep.
“It will be a big test because Monaghan is a big Ulster footballing county.
“It will be tough with just a week turnaround but hopefully we will have Seaghan and Gary back, and we’ll see what Cian Mulligan is like.”
Gaoth Dobhair were up at the Creggan competition last year, and were unfortunate to lose out to Watty Graham’s in the semi-final with a depleted squad.
The Maghera club went on to win the title, but they didn’t win the Derry Championship this year.
There’s unfinished business for Gaoth Dobhair, and they are targeting a spot in the final.
“That’s what we will be aiming for. Last year, seven starters from our county final win against Ballyshannon were out for the game against Watty Graham’s.
“It was a game that I felt we should have won because we were up by four or five points in the second half.
“Watty Graham’s are a good club team and they have cleaned up at this age group.
“We’ll see how we get on and we will play it by ear. If we get over next week, we might get Mulligan and a few other boys back, and we’ll have a few weeks of training, and we’ll see what happens.”
It’s a busy schedule for Carroll, who combines his club commitments with playing for Donegal.
He will be hoping to feature regularly in the McKenna Cup, while he will also line out for LYIT in the coming weeks.
There’s a lot going on, but he says Declan Bonner is monitoring the situation.
“When you’re young, it’s that bit easier, but Declan and John McElholm, and the boys are looking after us well.
“We’re not doing hectic training, as the young fellas are playing the games.
“You get more out of a game than you do out of four or five sessions, and that’s the way we are looking at it for January and February.”
THIS Sunday's Paddy McLarnon Cup Final will signal the end of one of Gaoth Dobhair's best ever underage sides.