Derrygonnelly's early three-goal blast is too much for Clann Eireann despite fightback
Ulster Club SFC semi-final: Derrygonnelly Harps (Fermanagh) 3-11 Clann Eireann (Armagh) 1-11
WHEN an announcement was made after 24 minutes asking 'whoever is blowing the whistle' to stop doing so it appeared that it would have been an act of kindness for the referee to accede to that request - and bring this apparently one-sided non-contest to a halt.
In this case, a whistle-blower didn't signal corruption or controversy - Derrygonnelly were simply far too strong and clinical for a Clann Eireann side appearing in its first ever Ulster campaign.
The Fermanagh champs stormed into an 11-point lead without the Lurgan men troubling the scorers in just over half that time, including a devastating three-goal salvo inside a six-minute spell.
Shane McGullion netted twice either side of a clever fisted finish from 'man of the match' Conall Jones at full-forward and the Harps looked like they were already tuning up for their first ever Ulster Final appearance with just over 12 minutes gone, leading by 3-2 to no score.
Derrygonnelly were still 10 points clear when that PA appeal was made - and led by the same margin at half-time, 3-5 to 0-4, although they had lost midfielder Stephen McGullion to a second yellow card just before added time.
Conor Turbitt had looked lively for the Lurgan lads, but his only sight of goal before the break was blocked moments before that dismissal.
The first half concluded with a heated argument over the direction of a sideline ball near half-way, which appeared utterly pointless in the circumstances - but Clann Eireann's fighting spirit was obviously still there, and that showed in the second half.
With the extra man, and the introduction of some fresh legs when the teams turned around, the Armagh representatives laudably managed to make a match of this.
A great goal from Conor McConville in the 44th minute, soloing through as the defence stood off him before firing low to the net, sparked them to score five of the next six scores. That reduced the gap to just four points with four minutes of normal time remaining (3-9 to 1-11), only for their own indiscipline to cost them the chance of another famous victory.
Having pulled off amazing comebacks against both Crossmaglen in the Armagh decider and Antrim champs Creggan on their Ulster debut, the possibility of one more, in conjunction with yet another semi-final disappointment for Derrygonnelly, seemed suddenly, shockingly, possible.
Yet moments after Derrygonnelly captain Ryan Jones made an important interception deep in his own defence to stem yet another Clann Eireann attack the Lurgan men's Sean McCarthy received a straight red card for a 58th minute foul on the two-goal McGullion.
With the numbers level once more, the Harps fairly comfortably saw out almost seven minutes of added time, during which Conall Jones brought his tally to 1-5, with his and the game's last score greeted by a few fist-pumps from the number 14.
Derrygonnelly assistant manager Mick Glynn was obviously even more delighted by their stunning start, which went a long way to winning this semi-final, saying:
"We were criticised in the Fermanagh championship for not scoring goals, we won most games by scoring points. So, to get one goal was a great help, to get a second one was wonderful, and to get a third really put the icing on the cake…"
Still, Clann Eireann could have blown out the candles before the party began, as Glynn acknowledged: "It took it all - our sending-off had a big bearing on the game, obviously, gave them a lifeline to come back into it. Then when they scored their goal in the middle of the second half it got down to four points at one stage, so we needed those goals.
"You also have to hand it Clann Eireann, they came at us, but they had a good few wides - if they'd scored some more of them it might have been a different outcome."
Indeed the Armagh side sent nine efforts off-target, all of them looking scoreable - including a mark - whereas Derrygonnelly recorded only two wides.
However, Clann Eireann boss Tommy Coleman quite rightly pointed to the first third of the match as when the real damage was done to their chances of progress:
"The first 15, 20 minutes killed it, we could not get a handle on Derrygonnelly at all. Fair play to them, they came out of the blocks, moved the ball so quick, it took us a while to get our shape.
"We were able to change things around, get our match-ups right, and then the sending-off gave us the opportunity to push on… unfortunately we couldn't get enough scores.
"The best team won, we don't have any regrets about that….It wasn't to be today, but these lads have been great, I would never criticise them and what they've given to the club. The journey they've brought us on has been fantastic."
While Clann Eireann look back on a first Armagh crown since 1963, Derrygonnelly look forward to the Ulster decider in the middle of next month, thanks to their astonishing opening quarter of this match.
Although the weather was better than many a July evening, and orange and purple abounded, the orangemen from Armagh were no match for the Harps at first.
Already ahead after two frees converted by Garvan Jones, Shane McGullion palmed the ball in after a Gary McKenna shot was parried. Conall Jones then leapt to flick a long kick in from his brother Ryan over the advancing goalkeeper and into the unguarded net.
Then, best of all, Conall Jones and McKenna combined to release McGullion, who coolly finished for a third major score.
Bish, bash, bosh.
Glynn admitted it felt as if Christmas had come early for the Harps - very early: "It was like summer football really, even thought it's the week before Christmas."
Although a few substitutes came leaping onto the pitch at the long whistle, the Derrygonnelly team did not overly celebrate, with Glynn concluding: "We'll enjoy Christmas, but we'll also prepare well for the final. It's great to get to it - but it's no good just getting to finals, you have to go there to win them."
Previously it's been a case of 'close, but no cigar' for Fermanagh clubs in years ending in '2', with Roslea losing the 1982 final and Enniskillen Gaels defeated in 2002 (having also been beaten in the 1999 decider).
Almost 20 years on from the last final appearance by an Erne County club, after smoking Clann Eireann, Derrygonnelly will aim to go forth and make history.
Derrygonnelly: J McGurn; A Jones, T Daly, M Jones; O Smyth, D Cassidy, Lee Jones; Stephen McGullion (0-1), R Jones (capt.); E McHugh, G Jones (0-3 frees), Leigh Jones; Shane McGullion (2-0), C Jones (1-5, 0-1 free), G McKenna (0-2, 0-1 free).
Substitutes: Rian McGovern for Lee Jones (43); C Burns for Leigh Jones (49); A McKenna for Shane McGullion (58); Gareth McGovern for McHugh (62); N Maguire for Cassidy (66).
Red card: Stephen McGullion (30, second yellow).
Clann Eireann: E Mulholland; C O'Carroll, S Heffron (capt.), D Leathem; A Kelly, B McCambridge, S McCarthy; C Bell, T Kelly; A McConville, D McCarthy (0-1), R Henderson; C Turbitt (0-6, 0-5 frees), D Magee (0-1), C McConville (1-1).
Substitutes: J Conlon (0-1) for O'Carroll (h-t); R McDonald for A McConville (h-t); P McKenna (0-1) for Bell (37); O McCafferty for Henderson (54).
Red card: McCarthy (58).
Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim).