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GAA Football

Early two-goal salvo paves the way for Derrygonnelly's first win in Ulster Championship after battle with Armagh Harps

Andy Watters at Brewster Park

AIB Ulster Club Senior Football Championships: Derrygonnelly Harps (Fermanagh) 2-8 Armagh Harps (Armagh) 1-8

EXPERIENCE was key as Derrygonnelly Harps capitalized on a dream start to see off an Armagh Harps side that never settled at Brewster Park on Saturday night.

With the Jones brothers, Ryan, Conal and Garvan, outstanding, the well-organised three in-a-row Fermanagh champions never trailed and had the physical edge in a game that wasn’t particularly bad-tempered despite the hefty card count that totalled seven yellows and four reds.

The Armagh champions will feel that they played a part in their own downfall and defensive lapses meant they were 2-1 to no score behind after 10 minutes and chasing the game. They clawed their way back into it and if Ultan Lennon’s shot had hit the Derrygonnelly net instead of the post early in the second half, the result could have been different.

When Lennon did grab his goal, time was almost up and Derrygonnelly deservedly held on to record the club’s first victory at Ulster senior level.

“It was just pure relief at the end,” said their manager, Martin Greene.

“It was a tough game, this is something we’ve never done in the club and tonight was the night to get the monkey off our backs so we’re just happy with the result.”

Greene acknowledged that the early goals had been crucial. The first came from a Paul Ward penalty after Gary McKenna was adjudged to have been bundled over in the square. The second arrived when Conal Jones grabbed a poor kick-out from Armagh Harps goalkeeper Paddy Morrison and blazed the ball into the visitors’ net.

“In any game goals make a difference and we probably got them at the right time, thankfully we were able to carry it off,” added the Derrygonnelly manager.

“We had to dig in for the second half and we were probably a bit more defensive and we defended manfully so it’s pure relief to be in an Ulster semi-final; somewhere we haven’t been before.

“It’s another hurdle and we’ll be massive underdogs going into it, but we like to think that we’d give anyone a game. We look forward to it and we relish the challenge.”

Derrygonnelly’s experienced players all came to the fore and the midfield diamond of Eamon McHugh, Ryan and Garvan Jones and Paul Ward was excellent as were Mickey Jones in defence and Conal Jones (who finished with 1-5) in attack.

Meanwhile, there were regular glimpses of the pace and skill that had seen Armagh Harps win their first county title since 1991 a fortnight earlier. However, this was a stop-start performance from the Cathedral City side who seemed intent on taking on Derrygonnelly physically in the early stages and came off second best.

“It didn’t happen for us,” said manager John Toner.

“We created chances and didn’t take them. We gave two quick goals away and ultimately that was the difference in the game.

“For long periods we matched Derrygonnelly and I don’t know if it was experience at Ulster club level – it was a lot of the boys’ first year – but we’re disappointed. Derrygonnelly are a very good team and, ultimately, we weren’t good enough.”

He added: “We were six down at half-time but we believed we could turn it around.

“We had a lot of possession at the start of the second half but we didn’t get it (the lead) down to three points to create a bit of pressure. Then you see what a team is made of, but we didn’t get to that stage.”

Derrygonnelly had been dealt a serious blow when Tiarnan Daly limped off with a hamstring injury that must leave him doubtful for his side’s semi-final in a fortnight.

The experienced full-back was receiving treatment when a kick-passing movement scythed through the Armagh defence and when Gary McKenna was bundled over just inside the square by Joe McIlroy referee Dan Mullan signaled penalty.

Paul Ward sent Morrison to his left and tucked the ball into the right corner and Conal Jones added a point after more good work from McKenna and Ryan Jones.

Then disaster struck for the Armagh champions. Morrison, outstanding in the county final, hit the kick-out straight back to Conal Jones and he smashed a shot past his desperate dive to leave his side 2-1 to no-score ahead inside 10 minutes

With their defence looking jittery, Armagh Harps desperately needed a score to settle them down but Joe McElroy and Conor White both sent good chances wide before McIlroy made amends by posting their first point after 17 minutes.

Conal Jones and Lennon swapped points and, with Charlie Vernon in charge at midfield, Armagh Harps began to make some headway against the wind. They saw plenty of the ball and were able to break even until half-time with scores from Lennon and sub Gareth Swift canceling out points from Stephen McGullion and Conal Jones which left it 2-4 to 0-4 at the interval.

Sheets of rain blew down the field into the faces of the Derrygonnelly players as the second half began. The Fermanagh men would have expected their opponents to come out blazing and, with handling proving difficult under the lights, a Kevin Cassidy fumble gave away possession.

Armagh Harps charged forward and Swift found Lennon to his right. The bearded full-forward smashed in a shot that thudded against the post with a mighty ‘whhhhummp’ and the Derrygonnelly defence scrambled the ball away.

Then Simon McCoy raced down the right and flighted the ball to back post were Swift jumped to fist it over and cut the gap to five. The game was in the balance at this stage, but Derrygonnelly refused to collapse and Conal Jones took Kevin Cassidy’s pass, gave Declan McKenna the slip and swung over another excellent score to restore his side’s six-point lead.

Armagh Harps continued to press and Conor Coulter briefly had a sight of goal before the Derrygonnelly defence slammed door shut in his face. Tempers flared and Coulter and Denis Greene were both sent off and when Gareth Swift was also shown a red card a minute later, for an off the ball foul, the writing looked on the wall for the Armagh champions.

Garvan Jones tagged on a point and, 2-6 to 0-5 ahead and a man up, there seemed no way Derrygonnelly could lose.

It was scrappy and untidy and Conal Jones and Ryan McShane swapped points before numerical parity was restored when Gary McKenna was sent off with 10 minutes to go.

Mark McConville and Conor Murphy had reduced the arrears to five by the time the seven minutes of injury-time began and, even at that stage, a goal for Armagh would have made for an exciting finish.

Full-back Conn Stevenson joined the attack and was clearly tripped in the square, but referee Mullan waved away penalty claims. Garvan Jones’ point settled Derrygonnelly nerves and by the time Lennon stuck the ball in their net the game was up.

Derrygonnelly march on and they’ll take some stopping in their semi-final in a fortnight’s time.

Derrygonnelly: D Feely; Shane McGullion, T Daly, M Jones; D Greene, E McHugh, G McGinley; R Jones, G Jones (0-2); K Cassidy, P Ward (1-0 pen), D Cassidy; G McKenna, Lee Jones, C Jones (1-5, 0-1 free)

Subs: S McGullion (0-1) for T Daly (5), A Gallagher for Lee Jones (36), N Gallagher for Stephen McGullion (58), A McKenna for K Cassidy (65), 19 for 11 (66)

Yellow cards: G McGinley (34), G McKenna (50&58), C Jones (56)

Red cards: D Greene (43), G McKenna (58)

Armagh Harps: P Morrison, S Farry, K Loughran, C Stevenson; R McGrath, D McKenna, M McConville (0-1); L Oliver, C White; R McShane (0-1), J McElroy (0-1), T O’Kane; C Vernon, U Lennon (1-2, 0-1 45, 0-1 free), S McCoy

Subs: J Loughran for K Loughran (27), G Swift (0-2, 0-1 free) for R McGrath (30), C Coulter for L Oliver (ht), C Murphy (0-1) for O’Kane (40), E Fields for McCoy (54)

Yellow cards: M McConville (31), C Vernon (50), C White (51)

Red cards: C Coulter (43), G Swift (44)

Referee: D Mullan (Derry)

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