BY CHRIS MCNULTY
CLOUGHANEELY were dipping their toes into the pool at the Earagail Health Club in Gweedore on Tuesday night as their focus turned from a hectic and heroic weekend onto Sunday’s Ulster Intermediate semi-final against Cumann Pheadair Naofa of Warrenpoint (Dungannon, throw-in 2.15pm).
Joe McGarvey’s team defeated Buncrana in the Donegal Intermediate Championship final on Saturday, taking the Cathal McLaughlin Cup after a 0-15 to 0-8 win. Less than 24 hours later, and after truncated celebrations, the Falcarragh outfit defeated Castledawson at Owenbeg.
Leg weary from their county final the day previous, Cloughaneely looked like rabbits caught in the Castledawson headlights when goals by Aidan McElhone and Aidan Bradley had the Derry side – managed by Fanad native William McAteer – eight points up at one stage in the first half. However, John Fitzgerald’s goal was just the tonic for Cloughaneely who mounted a spirited second-half comeback to force extra time and, eventually, win the game.
“It took us a long time to get into it on Sunday; it really did take us half-an-hour to get onto Castledawson and get them sussed,” the Cloughaneely manager said this week.
“It was mental tiredness more than physical tiredness to be honest, but you could see that they were drained. They went out in the second half and lifted it. They really put in a brilliant performance for the second half and again in extra time.
“We have a great group of players here. They didn’t need much motivating on Sunday. They could have gone out on the rip on the Saturday night, but they all said they wanted to give this Ulster Championship a go. In fairness to them, that was the players’ call.
“We knew absolutely nothing about Castledawson, bar a couple of wee things – we couldn’t very well plan too much for them with Buncrana in our way.
“At eight points down I thought the game was up. After the schedule we’d had it was only natural to think that, but we got them re-focussed at half-time. We had nothing to lose really, but the boys gave it absolutely everything from then until the end.”
A second goal, netted by John McGarvey, saw Cloughaneely earn extra-time. Denis Boyle was among the stars on Saturday, scoring five points against Buncrana, and the former Donegal senior panellist helped himself to eight points on Sunday. Two of those came in the extra period when, after a 2-11 apiece stalemate, Cloughaneely won the day thanks to Boyle’s brace and another from Declan McGarvey.
Boyle was on fire at the weekend, while the likes of captain Shaun Maguire and Kevin Mulhern – an ex-Donegal senior player who left the panel after playing in the first two National League games of Jim McGuinness’s tenure in 2011 – helped lead the way.
McGarvey said: “Those experienced players are absolutely massive for us. They’ve been in big games before and they know how to win. They’ve been there and done that. They know how to win, but they also know what losing is like. They went into the game on Saturday against Buncrana not wanting the same feeling as they had in 2010 when Bundoran beat us in the Intermediate final.
“It’s not just those older lads, though. Nine of our panel are under 21, but every one of them stood up to the challenge of the weekend.”
Centre-back Lee O’Brien was forced off with an ankle injury during the second half of Saturday’s final. With O’Brien unlikely to feature this Sunday in Dungannon, Conor McGee seems likely to fill the number 6 berth again. Elsewhere, McGarvey has no injury concerns and appears set to go with the same XV that started against Castledawson.
Shaun McGarvey, the manager’s son, is one of the leading players at Pairc Naomh Fionnan, but a medial ligament injury has severely curtailed his participation of late. He was reduced to a cameo appearance in Saturday’s final, but still managed to fire over the game’s final point, and he also saw action on Sunday. McGarvey, though, doesn’t look likely to feature this time around.
The manager said: “Shaun was keen to get a run out. We were well on top against Buncrana so we stuck him in. If we’d seen the game on Sunday going to extra time we probably would have kept Shaun because he had to come off again. More than likely he’ll not be able to play on Sunday.”
Cloughaneely have had just one previous venture into the Ulster Championship, losing in Ballybofey against Coleraine in 2006.
Last weekend brought more rewards than most to the club. The Intermediate Championship win means they’re back among the big guns again, joining neighbours like St Michael’s, Gaoth Dobhair and Dungloe in the senior ranks from next year. The champagne was kept in the ice buckets until after Sunday’s game, when they fired themselves into an Ulster semi-final.
McGarvey said: “These are all big steps for Cloughaneely. We had two absolutely massive wins there at the weekend, winning through into the senior championship and getting into an Ulster semi-final. The next thing for us will be waiting on that senior draw, but senior is where we want to be. Ultimately that is where all clubs want to be. We don’t have a big panel and we’re only working off about 19 or 20 players.”
Warrenpoint have been reliant on the scintillating form of Ross McGarry of late. The Down champions have seen McGarry score 0-10, 0-10 and 1-8 on his last three games and the 23-year-old will be looking to gun down Cloughaneely on Sunday.
“Everyone is putting a serious shift out the field and that’s the only reason I’m able to get those types of scores,” McGarry modestly mentioned this week.
“They are getting the ball in a lot and thankfully I’m playing good at the moment too.
“We know that Cloughaneely are going to fire absolutely everything at us. They played two games back-to-back in two days and fair play to them for coming out on top.
“They are not coming into the game just to make up numbers.”
Warrenpoint lost out in the Ulster final to Cookstown in 2012. Young-gun Donagh McAleenan and captain Ryan Boyle are the other key members of Bernie Ruane’s squad.
McGarry said: “We feel we have unfinished business but we know that they will not be giving us an easy match. We’re really looking forward to it. It’s probably a cliché but you probably have to learn to lose before you can learn how to win.”