GAA Football

If you won't give Derrygonnelly respect, they'll come and take it

Eamon McHugh's man-marking job on Niall Sludden, and the display of Ryan Jones, were two key reasons for Derrygonnelly's win over Dromore. Picture by Seamus Loughran
From Cahair O'Kane in Carrickmore

Ulster Club SFC quarter-final: Dromore 0-13 Derrygonnelly 1-16 (AET)

IT’S hard to know at which point in the last six years public opinion of Derrygonnelly moved from under-estimation to downright disrespect, but it happened.

Very few people gave them much chance going into Carrickmore on Saturday afternoon.

The bookmakers, who rarely get it wrong, had them priced as plucky underdogs at best.

There ought to have been no great surprise at how it turned out. Anyone who watched the game would readily admit the Fermanagh champions deserved a win they had to work their fingers to the bone to earn.

While it was the impressive Stephen McGullion’s fisted goal at the very end of extra-time that unleashed delirium among the travelling Harps fans in the old Nally Stand, really the decisive moment had come 20 minutes earlier.

With 30 seconds to play and leading by a point against 14 men, Dromore shouldn’t have given the ball away. The foul on Eamon McHugh was soft enough. But angle and wind into account, with Martin McNally telling the Jones brothers it was the last kick, it seemed almost impossible anyway.

Ryan and Conall juggled with the responsibility before the latter took it. Outside of the boot, just inside the 45’, out towards the sideline, into the teeth of a strong wind, joint-manager Mick Glynn called it “a once-in-a-lifetime kick”.

That made it 0-10 apiece and earned Derrygonnelly another 20 minutes. For the 20 minutes before that, they’d been scrambling around for anything resembling a raft. Any free, any ball they could win at midfield, anything to eat up precious seconds.

Circumstance made it so. Wind-backed, the Fermanagh champions had carved out a three-point half-time lead that Dromore made no dent in for a good while thereafter.

Then it turned very quickly with Pete Teague (free), Ryan and Eoin McCusker all pointing in quick succession.

Gary McKenna capitalised on a mistake to push Derrygonnelly back in front but the fine line Declan Cassidy had walked eventually snapped in a game that was intense and hard and full of loose tackling, but didn’t really deserve its 19 yellow cards and three reds.

38-year-old Cassidy had set the tone for his team’s physical, relentless performance and was excellent, but was on a booking when he caught Niall Sludden high. When the excellent Ronan McNabb jnr equalised shortly after the water break, it seemed that there could only be one winner.

Yet Derrygonnelly got back in front and held the lead until the 60th minute. Then corner-back Colm O’Neill and sub Andrew McGrath struck and it seemed that the Tyrone champions had stolen it.

It would have been unfair on Derrygonnelly, who had gotten so much right. Mickey Jones and Tiarnan Daly were outstanding in the full-back line, although done no harm by the hugely significant early withdrawal of Emmet McNabb, who’d been brilliant for Dromore all year.

Eamon McHugh was asked to do a job on Niall Sludden and did it with the ferocity it required. He was quietly magnificent.

Ryan Jones and Stephen McGullion were the platform they tend to be at midfield. Sean McNabb in the first half fought Dromore’s best aerial fight but primary possession was mostly Derrygonnelly’s preserve. They gave a lot of it away too, and it was far from perfect, but they’d been good enough to deserve not to lose.

Buoyed by his equaliser, Conall Jones had a big first period of extra-time, converting three frees of which was one was his own making, but it was still his sibling who edged the man-of-the-match award with a truly totemic display at midfield.

The Ernemen kicked five points in those first ten minutes and never looked like relinquishing their control, even when they were reduced to 14 men for the second time after Conall Jones was twice booked.

Colm O’Neill suffering the same fate in the last minute was Dromore’s dying breath, and McGullion’s leap above Mark McGale on the last ball turned home the goal that allowed his kinsmen to relax and rejoice.

Dromore couldn’t complain after what Colm McCullagh called a “gut-wrenching” defeat.

Emmet McNabb’s injury was a big blow and they did still lead deep into stoppage time, but they never displayed the verve that brought them out of Tyrone for the first time since 2011.

“When you’re beat in championship football it feels gut-wrenching, and that’s the way it should feel. But when we look back on the year, very few people would have said Dromore would be Tyrone champions,” said McCullagh, who conceded they would rather have had the game in Omagh, but made no issue of it.

“When the dust settles, if we come to Christmas we’ll look back and we’ll have the O’Neill Cup in our hands, and we can take great pride in that.”

Derrygonnelly’s replayed battles with Ederney and Kinawley didn’t do the Fermanagh champions any harm, but what mostly stuck by them was their greater exposure to the needs of Ulster Club football in the last seven years.

“Experience is massive in this competition,” said Glynn, who is joint-manager with Sean Flanagan.

“I remember the first year we were in it against Slaughtneil up in Owenbeg, we were out of our depth. But every year we’ve learned incrementally.

“We’ve been in the semi-final twice, and were beaten in one of them after extra-time. We’ve been knocking on the door for a while.

“We believed in ourselves. A lot of people thought up against a Tyrone team we would have no chance but we’ve been on the road a good while now and we know what it’s about.”

The dominant force of Fermanagh football will now have a third cut at an Ulster semi-final and many will feel they’re favourites for it.

If you won’t give them your respect, they’ll come and take it.

M McGale; C O’Hara, P Teague (0-2, 0-1 free), C O’Neill (0-1); P McHugh, R McCusker (0-1), N McCarron; O Rafferty, N Sludden; S McNabb, R McNabb snr, R McNabb jnr (0-2); E McNabb (0-3, 0-2 frees), T Sludden, E McCusker (0-2, 0-1 free)
Subs: C Slevin for E McNabb (23), A McGrath (0-1) for T Sludden (40), C McCoy for Rafferty (41), C Goodwin (0-1) for P McHugh (48), C MacRory for E McCusker (59), T McCarron for Slevin (69)
Yellow cards: E McCusker (10), R McCusker (16), P McHugh (26), R McNabb snr (30), P Teague (33), C O’Neill (33, 76, 77)
Red card: C O’Neill (77, second yellow)

Derrygonnelly: J McGurn; T Daly, M Jones; D Cassidy (0-1), O Smyth, A Jones, A McKenna; Stephen McGullion (1-0), R Jones (0-2), E McHugh; Shane McGullion (0-1), G Jones (0-1 free), Leigh Jones; C Jones (0-6, 0-5 frees), G McKenna (0-4, 0-2 frees)
Subs: R McGovern for A McKenna (49), C Burns for Leigh Jones (52), G McGovern (0-1) for G Jones (56), N Maguire (start of ET), Lee Jones for Smyth (65), S Gilroy for Shane McGullion (75), G Jones for G McKenna (76)
Yellow cards: G McKenna (8), D Cassidy (14, 44), Stephen McGullion (31, 71), M Jones (31), G Jones (35), R Jones (56), C Jones (62, 72)
Red cards: D Cassidy (44, second yellow); C Jones (72, second yellow)

Referee: M McNally (Monaghan)

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