Magherafelt hold on for deserved win in controversial finale
O’Neills Derry SFC final: Magherafelt 0-12 Glen 0-11
AFTER 41 years, was it ever going to be anything other than nerve-racking?
Forget the messy end, the chaos of which almost saw Glen come back and snatch a replay, one they might have got had the game had literally three more seconds in it.
Ciaran McFaul’s effort from out wide headed between the posts but by the time he kicked it, the Magherafelt bench was skating jubilantly across the turf behind him.
John Joe Cleary’s whistle had gone to the lips, almost seven minutes into stoppage time. He’d added four but a fair proportion of it was taken up by further stoppages.
But with Glen on the final attack, he decided there were no more seconds left. No more seconds for Magherafelt to hold out on their way to a win that they absolutely and thoroughly deserved.
The nails of every Rossa in the gargantuan crowd of 9,511 in Celtic Park were bitten to the quick. It took them 22 minutes to forge out a lead but the purple patch they hit just before half-time pushed them four clear, and until the very dying embers they never looked like relinquishing it.
Their systems just worked. From hammering the Glen kickout, of which they won 11 out of 15 in the first half, to their defensive match-ups that shut many of Glen’s key threats out of the game, it was about as close to a masterclass as you’d get from a team playing in their first final of a generation.
While there were individual battles that had a major impact, such as Conor McCluskey’s job on Jack Doherty, it was a lot about the way they pushed Ciaran McFaul and Emmett Bradley so much to the periphery of the game.
Both of them ended up at full-back for spells, and Magherafelt seemed to have an alarm set for any time either of them touched the ball.
At midfield, they were outstanding in the air. Man of the match Emmett McGuckin, along with Jared Monaghan and Danny Heavron, won mountains of ball.
Heavron’s younger brother Shane ended the day with five points. Four of them were from frees, the other a superb effort from play, but if anything seemed destined to let them down, it was a bit of rashness in their shooting.
At times in the first half they were dictating everything except the scoreboard. Glen, against the wind, were playing a patient, probing game but one that relied largely on captain Danny Tallon or the outstanding talented teenager Alex Doherty to find a route to goal.
Danny Heavron had an early goal chance cruelly denied by the referee’s whistle when the advantage was obvious, while Shane had an effort cleared off the line.
But had Ethan Doherty not been denied by a spread-eagled Odhran Lynch save down the other end at 0-5 to 0-4, it might have been a different tale. Magherafelt came straight down the other end and Emmett McGuckin equalised, and the Rossas followed it up by hitting the last four scores of the half unanswered.
The game had settled into their terms. Glen were living off scraps in terms of possession, with Magherafelt’s bravery largely rewarded.
On the odd occasion they did win a ball in the middle, though, Jude Donnelly’s side threatened a goal. It was the one real worry for Adrian Cush in the first half, that their commitment to winning the Glen kickout was leaving them very exposed.
Playing with the wind, they got scores from Antone McElhone (who was well shackled by Conor McGill), the impressive John Young and two from Shane Heavron made it 0-9 to 0-5 at the break.
It seemed tailor made for Conor Glass, named in the Glen squad, but Jude Donnelly revealed afterwards that there was never any chance of him playing as he contractually wasn’t allowed by his AFL club, Hawthorn.
Right throughout, Magherafelt had been inventive. They constantly rotated their full-forward between Danny and Shane Heavron and Emmett McGuckin, always making sure they had a presence. Glen had Cahir McCabe torn between sweeping and pushing out as a body around the middle.
Glen had also taken full-back Ryan Dougan out and placed him at wing-half forward to do a job on Conor Kearns, who had been a central figure for Magherafelt. Dougan did it well in the first half, but Kearns had an excellent second period.
The Rossas created the goal chances in the second half. Conor McCluskey fired over when through right at the start, starting an exchange of points with Doherty brothers Jack and Alex, sandwiching an effort by Emmett McGuckin, left one-on-one at full-forward and taking advantage.
Right at the midway point of the half, Magherafelt were awarded a penalty when Conor Kearns was fouled after a great run. But Shane Heavron’s penalty lacked power and was tipped away by Callum Mullan-Young, who was then booked for his reaction.
Alex Doherty and Danny Tallon were doing everything in their might to draw the game back for Glen, who were just starting to see that Magherafelt were developing a touch of white line fever.
For the last 20 minutes, the winners went into their shell and became very static, content to hold what they had rather than looking for more. It almost came back on them.
Emmett McGuckin hooked a great effort off Fergal Duffin’s overlap to push Magherafelt 0-12 to 0-9 ahead with three to play, but Tallon and an Emmett Bradley free made it a one-point game with a minute of added time played.
Tallon had a tough chance to equalise and sent his shot skyward from 35 yards but having hung for an eternity, it dropped just short into the safe hands of Odhran Lynch.
Shane Heavron then missed a free from the wrong side and Glen thought they had one more chance, but they couldn’t work the shot quickly enough and so the chance was stripped from them by the sound of the final whistle.
They’ll forever be sore about it, but there are unquestionably more finals in them. With no player over the age of 26 used, they’re a few years from their peak yet.
Magherafelt aren’t much different, apart from the fact that they now have one.
And whatever about the ending, they deserved it.
Magherafelt: O Lynch; S McErlain, D O’Neill, G Lupari; F Duffin, C McCluskey, C Kearns; D Heavron, E McGuckin (0-3), J Monaghan; P McLarnon (0-1), S Heavron (0-5, 0-4 frees), J Young (0-1); A McElhone (0-1), C Murphy
Subs: M Lynch for McElhone (45), D Martin for McLarnon (51), J Keenan for Lupari (56), S Óg Monaghan for Young (60)
Glen: C Mullan-Young; O McGill, O Hegarty; C McCabe; C Mulholland, C Carville, E Doherty; C McFaul, E Bradley (0-1 free); C McGuckin, J Doherty (0-1), R Dougan; P Gunning (0-1 free), A Doherty (0-4), D Tallon (0-4)
Subs: S O’Hara for McGuckin (43), T Flanagan for O’Hara (51), C Convery for Gunning (57), C Bradley for McCabe (61)
Referee: JJ Cleary (Castledawson)