DONEGAL 3-10 FERMANAGH 0-06
BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN BALLYBOFEY
WILLIE Gillespie and Ciaran Brennan netted late first half goals to propel Donegal Under-21s into an Ulster semi-final.
At times this threatened to become more testing than it ought to have been but, amid breezy conditions, it was those pair of majors just before half-time that took the wind out of the Fermanagh sails.
The Erne men scored just once in the second half on a night when captain Patrick McBrearty was in inspired form, scoring 1-7, including a late penalty as Maxi Curran’s side overcame a slow start to book their ticket to the semis.
McBrearty led the way with some sublime scores, including a peach of a point early in the second half, belying the conditions and the angles as he slotted nonchalantly over from wide on the left, just beneath the stand on the 13-metre line.
His late penalty gave Donegal a thirteen-point win after they managed to get over an initial bout of stage fright.
Thomas McCaffery shot Fermanagh ahead in the fifth minute, when he popped over the bar with only the goalkeeper – ex-Man Utd underage player Joe Coll – to beat after he got in behind to seize on a slip by Andrew McCloskey.
Coll was a late introduction to the line-up after Kevin McLoughlin of Urris, who had been named to start in goal, picked up a groin injury in the warm-up.
After a nervous start, Donegal were settled with three points from McBrearty – the third of them after good work by Ryan McHugh and Willie Gillespie – before they struck gold with two goals late in the first half.
From a dropping ball in by McBrearty, Naomh Colmcille man Gillespie rose ahead of ‘keeper Paddy Sweneey to sweep home. Donegal were ahead for the first time – and Fermanagh were broken by the concession.
In added time at the end of the half Donegal took a real grip on things when full-back Brennan got up on the end of a McBrearty pass and his mishit effort looped over Sweeney to give his side a 2-4 to 0-5 advantage at the break.
In between the goals, Ciaran Thompson added a fine point and despite both goals having a touch of good fortune about them, they were just the tonic that Donegal needed.
Senior panelist Darach O’Connor was deemed unfit to start because of a hamstring injury sustained on Monday, while playing for Colaistí Inis Eoghain in the MacLarnon Cup final.
But with McBrearty on song, aided by an excellent display by fellow Kilcar and Donegal senior player Ryan McHugh and an industrious shift from Martin O’Reilly, Donegal took a firm command during the second half.
McHugh, operating at centre-back, gave an assured and influential performance in the number 6 shirt and it was these, senior players, who drove Donegal to the win, although there is the growing sense that O’Connor’s presence will be called for in the next couple of weeks.
McHugh got forward for a score in the 43rd minute, with McBrearty steering over four times in the third quarter. His darts were spot on here and it is surely only a matter of time before he is restored to the senior side’s starting XV, too.
A free from Eoin McManus eight minutes into the half was the sum total of Fermanagh’s endeavours in the second half and it was certainly a disappointment from the visitors when you consider that the side contains several MacRory Cup medal winners.
The two goals from Gillespie and Brennan broke their resistance and with McBrearty hitting the high notes Donegal were long since home and hosed by the time they put a gloss on the scoreboard late in the day.
McFadden swept over after taking receipt of an O’Reilly off-load and as the game entered its dying moments McFadden was taken down by Niall Shannon for a penalty. McBrearty confidently stepped up and steered the sweetest of efforts past the motionless Sweeney into the bottom corner.
Donegal are into the April 2 semi final and await the winners of next Wednesday’s replay between Armagh and Antrim, who finished all square after extra time in a gripping tie at the Athletic Grounds.
DONEGAL: Joe Coll; Conor Parke, Ciaran Brennan (1-0), Andrew McCloskey; Eoin McHugh, Ryan McHugh (0-1), Gavin Gallagher; Hugh McFadden (0-1), Brendan McNelis; Eunan Doherty, Ciaran Thompson (0-1), Martin O’Reilly; Dara Mulgrew, Patrick McBrearty (1-7, 1-0 pen, 3f), Willie Gillespie (1-0).
Subs: Lorcan Connor for Mulgrew (41), Gary Clancy for McNelis (50 mins), Barry Griffin for Doherty (54 mins), Ciaran Cannon for E McHugh (55 mins).
FERMANAGH: Paddy Sweeney; Kevin McDonnell, Che Cullen, Eoin Hamill; Niall Shannon, Leo Cullen, Sean McManus; Ryan Lyons, Ryan Hyde; Daniel Teague, Ruairi Corrigan, Louis Leonard (0-1); Thomas McCaffery (0-1), Eddie Courtney (0-3, 3f), Eoin McManus (0-1, 1f).
Subs: Leigh Jones for McCaffery (30 mins), James Allen for Lyons (39 mins), Brian McAleer for E McManus (47 mins), Niall Maguire for Teague (52), Niall Carson for S McManus (60 mins).
REFEREE: Donal Connolly (Monaghan)