Ghaoth Dob­hair kings in Ul­ster

Keith Dug­gan:

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Keith Dug­gan at Healy Park, Omagh

They’ll re­mem­ber this as the day they won it twice. The cur­tain fell on the Ul­ster foot­ball season with an elec­tri­fy­ing game on a soak­ing wet day in Omagh and the com­ple­tion of Gaoth Dob­hair’s march from a long pe­riod in ob­scu­rity.

The Done­gal cham­pi­ons won their first Ul­ster ti­tle deep into the sec­ond pe­riod of extra-time, when Shane Ferry moved onto a quick and smartly taken free by Ea­monn McGee to edge them into the lead with the light fad­ing and play­ers ex­hausted across the field.

For Gaoth Dob­hair sup­port­ers in the crowd of 5,313, the last whis­tle made up for those con­tro­ver­sial few sec­onds on the cusp of or­di­nary time when Michael Car­roll struck what looked to be a beau­ti­ful, cham­pi­onship-win­ning point but ref­eree Noel Mooney had whis­tled Odhrán McFad­den- Ferry for a throw ball as he set Car­roll up.

It was a huge mo­ment in a rivet­ing match played in treach­er­ous con­di­tions: Kevin Cas­sidy the voice of rea­son as the Gaoth Dob­hair men protested while Scot­stown were just glad to still be in the com­pe­ti­tion. But it was also the cor­rect call and a hugely coura­geous de­ci­sion by the of­fi­cial.

“It was frus­trat­ing,” said Ea­monn McGee later. “It was a bit edgy in the dress­ing room, eff­ing each other out of it, which never hap­pened through the year. And I was just think­ing: this is a dan­ger­ous spot. So we just calmed down and re­grouped.”

Sheets of De­cem­ber rain made ev­ery pos­ses­sion a gam­ble and bat­tle for the play­ers of both sides in a match that was un­der­stand­ably un­tidy but packed with pas­sages of ter­rific play.

Both sides had their home­work done. Damien McAr­dle picked up Odhrán Mac Nial­lais and stood close to the Gaoth Dob­hair play­maker from the first minute, push­ing him away from that lethal left foot and lim­it­ing his op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­come in­volved in open play.

Rory Beg­gan spent long pe­ri­ods of the game on the Scot­stown 50 me­tre line, ush­er­ing his team-mates for­ward with the jaunty stroll of a farmer driv­ing cat­tle on a rainy Sun­day. The teams cov­eted pos­ses­sion and at­tacked in brief, pierc­ing bursts.

The scores were in­fre­quent but of very high qual­ity, with Shane Carey find­ing the space three in­valu­able scores from play while Darren and Kieran Hughes drove Scot­stown for­ward all af­ter­noon.

The wide open chan­nels which the Done­gal cham­pi­ons cre­ated against Cross­ma­glen were nowhere to be found here but they con­cocted half a goal chance when Cas­sidy, brim­ming with men­ace at full for­ward, got a touch on Ea­monn Col­lum’s at­tempted point, lead­ing to a fran­tic goal­mouth scram­ble.

Daire Ó ’Baoill was there to fol­low up but slipped in the muddy goal­mouth as he tried to con­nect first time. Sec­onds later, Darren Hughes had pointed at the other end.

High­lights

The duel be­tween Donal Mor­gan and Cas­sidy was one of the high­lights of the day: Mor­gan made a bril­liant block on the Done­gal vet­eran in the last minute of nor­mal time but Cas­sidy’s han­dling and ball move­ment was su­perb as this fi­nal deep­ened into a game of roulette in which ev­ery dis­pos­ses­sion and mis­take seemed ru­inous.

“It took a bit of balls: they didn’t play a sweeper even though Cass’ had been talked about all through the cham­pi­onship,” noted McGee.

Gaoth Dob­hair’s younger cast of Odhrán McFad­den-Ferry, Neil Friel and Naoise Ó Baoill form the heart of the team’s fluid run­ning game.

“We just piggy backed on them,” McGee said of the U-21 brigade’s in­flu­ence this year.

But af­ter Scot­stown had opened up a 0-8 to 0-5 points lead 10 min­utes af­ter half-time, Mac Nial­lais grad­u­ally be­gan to shake off McAr­dle’s at­ten­tions, be­com­ing in­volved in the play and strik­ing the point – one of those lan­guid left footed shots of his on the run – which fi­nally re­stored them to par­ity at 0-11 with two min­utes re­main­ing.

That score felt like a mo­men­tum shifter, even as those two min­utes be­came a mad­cap se­ries of bril­liant cov­er­ing tack­les, spilled passes, a late, long free from Beg­gan which fell short and fi­nally that throw-ball call which brought the match into added time.

The dis­missal of Shane Carey for a high tackle on James Ó Baoill – clumsy rather than ma­li­cious – gave the Done­gal men a crit­i­cal edge. No­tably, the points that gave them their first lead since the 21st minute came from two of their young sub­sti­tutes, Ó Baoill and Ferry.

It was a gru­elling place for Scot­stown to find them­selves: 70 min­utes on a ter­ri­bly heavy pitch, Carey no longer a scor­ing op­tion and Gwee­dore or­gan­ised and clos­ing down, mind­ful of not cough­ing up any more free op­por­tu­ni­ties for that rak­ing boot of Beg­gan. They fell just short.

Gaoth Dob­hair are set for a fas­ci­nat­ing game with All-Ire­land club cham­pi­ons Co­rofin as their long, splen­did season goes on.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: BRYAN KEANE/INPHO

Gaoth Dob­hair’s Kevin Cas­sidy is tack­led by Scot­stown’s Em­met Caulfield dur­ing the Ul­ster club fi­nal at Healy Park yes­ter­day.■

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