Gaels show mettle to turn over Derrygonnelly
Mannok Fermanagh SFC semi-final: Enniskillen Gaels 1-15 Derrygonnelly 2-11
WHETHER it’s in two weeks’ time or it takes them a bit longer, Enniskillen Gaels will get over the line and when they do, this will be a day they’ll always look back on.
Sixteen years after the last in their run of seven county titles in nine years, they’re in a second straight final at the expense of a Derrygonnelly team that had been on a very similar run to the Gaels in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
The Gaels were just about value for it in a game where the quality of score-taking was the redeeming feature for a lot of naivety on both ends.
A bumpy pitch whose championship haircut must’ve been double-booked and a whistly refereeing performance that perhaps owed a lot to avoiding a repeat of the sides’ bad-tempered league meeting didn’t aid the spectacle, yet it still produced 29 scores.
The first of them was a costly goal for the Harps. Shane McGullion completely lost his man was brave beyond measure in beating Cian Newman to the ball. It trickled into the empty net but the collision was heavy and ended McGullion’s game after barely a minute.
It took the Gaels a while to settle. Josh Horan was sweeping from too far out to impact on Derrygonnelly’s direct kicking game and in the first quarter the Gaels looked like they’d score a goal almost every time they came forward.
But a few positional switches, putting Aaron Nolan on to Garvan Jones after he’d done a fair bit of the early damage and Josh Horan on to Conall Jones, gave them a better shape and having played against a fairly stiff wind, they found themselves just two points down at the break.
Eoin Beacom, very impressive from midfield, kicked a fine score to leave it 1-6 to 0-6 that the Gaels needed at that stage. In the nine minutes since their previous white flag, Garvan and Conall Jones had pointed three frees and move the Harps four clear.
Beacom, Brandon Horan and Richie O’Callaghan all had moments of influence as a midfield trio, with the latter reading the game perfectly. At the end of both halves he played a give-and-go and drew crucial frees from which they scored. In a one-point game, those were big moments.
The Gaels also changed their left-footed free-taker early on and it helped too. Conor Love was struggling with the breeze against him and Callum Jones’ technique from the ground cut through the wind better and gave them a foothold.
He kicked the first score of the second half before Conor Watson equalised. But four minutes in they got a sucker-punch almost identical to the first. It was Ryan Jones’ diagonal on the first, a miscued shot off his left on the second, but as it dropped short Eamon McHugh put his head in and took a serious hit in order to beat Cian Newman to it and find the net.
He was able to bounce up to an ovation from the Harps supporters who perhaps felt that was the moment that the Gaels’ challenge would start to falter.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t know what way we’d go after the second goal. That’s the learning part for this team and they now have that in the bank forever more amen,” said Simon Bradley afterwards.
Derrygonnelly’s lead survived just seven minutes.
Referee Gerry McLaughlin is owed credit for a great read on the play for the Harps’ goal. He was playing an advantage as a Conor Watson fell down off the post. The ref let it develop for Conor McShea to pick up the loose ball and throw it to the back post. Josh Horan came very close to throwing the ball on his finish, one of those far-post slam-dunks that stayed in his hands a split-second too long.
“Definitely not,” smiles Bradley when asked if it was a throw.
“It’s one of those becoming more and more common now in Gaelic football and one that we work on a lot in training.
“From my point of view it looked clean enough but I can understand where you’re coming from. We’ll take it. You need a bit of luck to win a championship, maybe that’s our bit of luck to get into the final.”
Derrygonnelly joint-boss Mick Glynn wasn’t in the form for talking when he emerged.
His side’s composure really deserted them, surprisingly so for a team that has built up such experience over the last seven years, having been in every county final since 2014.
They had the wrong players taking bad shots in the final quarter, throwing efforts from places they shouldn’t have been throwing them from. They hung in but from the moment corner-back Jack Tierney kicked the town men 1-13 to 2-9 ahead with 19 wind-assisted minutes left, it was never level again.
Enniskillen Gaels scored just twice themselves in the final 22 minutes of play but they’d found the measure of the big individual battles. Garvan Jones kicked a brilliant effort to keep Derrygonnelly alive but they missed their next six shots, kicking five of them wide.
The winners had chances too, if not to the same extent. The game’s final moment was a dropped in free that fell to Leigh Jones but surrounded, he could only hook a shot up and high over the bar.
Two straight finals for the Gaels, the next step is to win. Sunday week against Erne Gaels or somewhere else in the near future, their day is coming back around.
Enniskillen Gaels: C Newman; J Tierney (0-1), J Horan (1-1), J Ferguson; J Cassidy, A Nolan, C McShea (0-1); E Beacom (0-1), B Horan (0-2), R O’Callaghan; N McDermott (0-1), C Jones (0-5 frees), C Watson (0-1); J Rehill (0-1 free), C Love (0-1)
Subs: P Rehill for Tierney (47), C Smith for Watson (51), C Quinn for McDermott (55), C Kelly for Jones (58)
Derrygonnelly: J Kelly; O Smyth, M Jones; D Cassidy; A Jones, Shane McGullion (1-0), L Jones (0-1); R Jones, Stephen McGullion (0-1); E McHugh (1-0), G Jones (0-4, 0-2 frees), A McKenna; C McGovern (0-2), C Jones (0-3 frees), R McGovern
Subs: G McGovern for Shane McGullion (2), C Burns for R McGovern (55), P Ward for G McGovern (61)
Referee: G McLaughlin (Ederney)