McLoone inspires Glenties to thrilling Donegal success
Raidio na Gaeltachta Donegal SFC final: Naomh Conaill 0-11 St Eunan’s, Letterkenny 0-10
LEO McLoone brilliantly led 14-man Naomh Conaill to an emotional but thoroughly deserved victory over holders St Eunan’s in a thriller in Ballybofey yesterday.
It looked bleak for the Glenties men when they lost 17-year-old substitute Eoghan McGettigan to a straight red card in the 40th minute.
He was only on the pitch 10 seconds when had an altercation with a St Eunan’s defender, which sparked a two-minute melee.
When things settled, referee Andrew Mullin sent-off the teenager after consulting with an umpire as St Eunan’s led by 0-8 to 0-7 at that point and looked likely to retain their title.
And Glenties recovered from yet another blow when captain McLoone tore through the Letterkenny defence with four defenders trying to halt his run.
The referee appeared to be playing an advantage for a foul on McLoone, but blew his whistle and brought the play back as his rocket nestled in the Letterkenny net.
Yet St Eunan’s failed to build on their good fortune as Naomh Conaill dug deep to strike the vital late scores from Molloy, substitute Johnny McLoone and Aaron Thompson.
A slightly shell-shocked St Eunan’s replied through the excellent Caolan Ward and a Rory Carr free, but Glenties hung tough and deservedly hung on for a merited victory.
This was their third county title, a decade on from their first, when they beat St Eunan’s after a replay on a day Jim McGuinness introduced the blanket defence.
A tearful Leo McLoone said it was a very special victory for his team.
“This is just fantastic and we showed great character to take it today. It’s so good that I just can’t put it into words,” he said.
“I knew it was going to take a lot to beat us and thankfully we did it.
“It was disappointing not to get that goal but I just knew the lads would continue to fight on to the bitter end.
“It just shows the character of the boys and they really showed it out there today.”
McLoone acknowledged that his side took a while to get into their stride, but there was no panic when they initially failed to hit their straps.
“It took us a while to really get into the game and it looked bleak and there were a few decisions that went against us,” he said.
“But this team has been together for quite a while and we have the experience of winning a few county titles.
“This one will always be very special for us because we were tested in the second half and we really stood up and were counted.”
St Eunan’s can have few complaints but they were just not able to match Naomh Conaill’s sheer hunger in those final frenetic moments.
They also hit four bad wides in the final 10 minutes when they had the extra man.
It was an unusually nervous finish from the county champions against side who played like men possessed.
Letterkenny had a last-gasp chance to nick a draw but Conal Dunne’s left-footed effort was well wide.
Big John Haran stamped his authority early on and found Lee McMonagle with a clever pass as the 23 year-old coolly got the champions off the mark after just a minute.
McMonagle’s clever strike set the pattern for a ding’dong opening half between two teams who probed and prodded like a dentist patiently looking for a raw nerve.
Glenties looked the more likely side in the opening quarter as points came from Eoin Waide and an early free from Dermot Molloy.
St Eunan’s hit back, with composed 18-year-old Rory Carr landing a 45 to level matters at 0-2 apiece by the 10th minute.
But the slicker Naomh Conaill moved into 0-4 to 0-2 lead thanks to clever efforts from lively McDyer and John O’Malley.
They then had a lucky escape when St Eunan’s centre-back Eamon Doherty’s shot cannoned off the crossbar after a swift
six-man move unlocked the Glenties defence.
But the rest of the half belonged to Eunan’s, with languid midfielder Kevin Rafferty orchestrating matters.
Rafferty led the charge with a left-footed point and Carr and Conal Dunne pushed the county champions into a 0-6 to 0-4 lead by the 28th minute.
Glenties were in trouble with some of their kick-outs, and were conceding more frees than their opponents but they ended a 13-minute drought with a point from Waide before McDyer levelled matters at 0-6 each,
But Eunan’s edged clear on the stroke of half-time when Conal Dunne hit a monster effort over the bar.
St Eunan’s veteran Haran said they had no complaints about their defeat.
“It is devastating and it is not nice to lose a final,” he said.
“I have lost quite a few in my earlier years and this is a bit like Groundhog Day.
“We had our chances and we just did not take them, and fair play to Glenties.
“The turning point was the sending off of the Glenties player and it always is.
“I thought the referee got the call about right for the Glenties goal as he had blown the whistle before Leo took the shot, but
they recovered very well from that.
“We kind of took our eye off the ball and got a wee bit disorganised and should have got a few more points, but we didn’t and Glenties deservedly pulled clear.
“Leo had a great game and fully deserved his man of the match.”
The second half will live long in the memory of those who wear the blue of Naomh Conaill.
Naomh Conaill; S McGrath, A Thompson (0-1) A J Gallagher, K McGettigan; M Boyle, A Thompson, E Waide (0-2); L McLoone (0-1f) C Thompson (0-1); E Doherty, D Molloy (0-32f) D Gallagher; J O’Malley, B McDyer (0-2), L Thompson.
Subs; J McLoone (0-1) for J O’Malley (38), E McGettigan for D Gallagher (38), S Corcoran for E Doherty (48), E O’Donnell for B McDyer (51), C Ellis for M Boyle (56), J Bonner for L Thompson (59).
Yellow Cards; E Waide (37), D Molloy (40), B McDyer (40),
St Eunan’s; J P Clarke, C Parke, S Hensey, P Devine; C Ward (0-1) E Doherty, C Gibbons; K Rafferty (0-1) R Kavanagh; C Morrison , C Dunne (0-32f) S McVeigh; R Carr (0-3f) J Haran, L McMonagle (0-2).
Subs; M McGowan for C Morrison (39), Cilian Morrison for C Gibbons (48), C Gibbons for Cillian Morrison (b-card), N O’Donnell for J Haran (58).
Yellow Cards C Ward (18), R Carr (33),
Referee; A Mullin (Killybegs);