‘Shivey’ strikes to put Cockhill through and end Letterkenny Rovers’ hopes of Aviva return

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LETTERKENNY ROVERS’ hopes of making to Aviva Stadium have been dashed at the first FAI Intermediate Cup hurdle by Cockhill Celtic.

Letterkenny Rovers 0 Cockhill Celtic 1

Derek ‘Shivey’ Doherty’s goal after just six minutes condemned Rovers to defeat, just over four months since they played in last season’s Intermediate final and, in doing so, put the agony of last year behind Cockhill.

Picture caption: Letterkenny Rovers’ David Shovlin challenges Ronan Doherty of Cockhill at Leckview Park.

Having dominated the domestic scene in recent years, it has been an irritation around the Inishowen side, but now they can dream big once more.

The goal was an opportunistic one with Doherty picking up possession around 20 yards from goal before having a go and seeing his low shot take a slight knick as it laboured to the bottom corner.

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Rovers – whose manager Eamon McConigley was absent as he was on holiday – weren’t found wanting, but just couldn’t turn chances into goals, despite going close in a game that had plenty of needle with nine yellow cards and just the one goal to separate them.

Last year’s finalists will reflect here on, not just a game they let go from their grasp, but the big days that graced this venue last season are now memories and dreams again.

There were moments here when the finest of margins proved decisive.

Just past the hour mark, Darren McElwaine, after connecting to a pin-point Paul McVeigh cross from the right, seemed set to head in the leveller, but the skipper’s effort flew wide.

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Cockhill player-manager Gavin Cullen had been the busier of the two goalkeepers and the former Finn Harps player just about managed to get the very tips of his gloves on the ball with McVeigh rampaging into the penalty area.

The touch was vital for without it Rovers would’ve had a certain penalty, but Cullen had to be on guard to spring to his feet and save from Rory Kevin McGrath with his defence all at sea.

Cockhill, lining up minus two of their more stellar performers in the injured Malachy McDermott and Garbhan Friel, might have put the game beyond doubt but Kelly got an ever-so-slight touch to deny Mark Moran, who slid towards the far corner with 20 minutes remaining.

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With Cockhill in search of a killer second, Conor Tourish – impressive throughout at the heart of the hosts’ defence – made a telling interception to deny Doherty a chance to slip home after Mark Moran opened the possibilities.

These teams met at this same stage last year when goals by McElwaine and McVeigh saw Rovers take a 2-1 win at the Charlie O’Donnell Sports Grounds and begin a magical run that only ended in May with a 5-0 loss to Crumlin in the final.

Having become the first team from these parts in 20 years to reach the final, Rovers began this term with the aim of, at least, emulating last season’s epic journey.

But fate decreed that they’d be handed the toughest possible start, in the form of a tie against four-in-a-row League champions Cockhill, who themselves have made no secret of a desire to make inroads in this competition.

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This fixture came seven days after being postponed last weekend and the teams arrived at a heavy Leckview on the back of a week of some comments in the media that added fuel to an already-burning blaze.

The tone was sent after just three minutes when Peter Doherty lunged into Ryan Gildea, right in front of the Rovers dugout, and was given a yellow card for his troubles.

Soon after, Paul McVeigh took Peter Doherty down in an almost-identical position, escaping sanction, but Gildea and Conor Tourish entered the book for chopping down James Bradley and Ronan Doherty and there were certainly others who could be thankful they didn’t have Michael Connolly’s yellow card flashed before them.

By then – just half-an-hour in – though, Cockhill were in font thanks to Doherty’s goal.

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Rovers had shown early promise and Cullen’s palms were tested by Kevin McGrath’s powerful effort and Cullen denied McElwaine in a one-v-one after Tourish’s ball out from the back found a way through.

McElwaine worked the space to shoot, but Cullen saved with his legs to keep his team in front.

Cullen was down again to avert the danger, again with McElwaine the man in his visor, when the Rovers captain found himself with an opportunity after taking receipt of Christy Connaghan’s free.

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McElwaine crafted a chance for Paul McVeigh in the closing moments of the first half, dragging the ball back for the winger to shoot but, again, Cullen saved.

Nine minutes into the second half a pot shot from Gerard McLaughlin forced Kelly into action and the Rovers ‘keeper held on while the same player riffled wastefully over ten minutes from time.

Rovers sub Terence Shiels dipped a free kick narrowly over the crossbar and, as the clock ticked into stoppage time, Cullen saved at the feet of Connaghan while Tourish flicked a header agonisingly over.

Letterkenny Rovers: Rory Kelly; David Shovlin (Terence Shiels 69), Paul Boyle, Conor Tourish, Ryan Gildea; Kevin McGrath, Christy Connaghan, Brian McVeigh, Paul McVeigh; Steve Okakpu-Emeka (Mark Forker 56), Darren McElwaine.

Cockhill Celtic: Gavin Cullen; Oisin McColgan, Peter Doherty, William O’Connor, Jason Breslin (Paul McDermott 53); Derek Doherty, James Bradley, Gerry Gill, Ronan Doherty (Ryan Varma 86); Gerard McLaughlin (Paul McKinney 88), Mark Moran.

Referee: Michael Connolly.

Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years' experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.

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