Ronan McLaughlin, hands to his head, squeezed his fingers and clenched his teeth as Burt – appearing in a first senior quarter-final since 1966 – stopped short of a massive upset.
St Michael’s 0-13 Burt 1-8
The Burt manager’s reaction painted the image to perfection as Burt were left to reflect on one that got away.
St Michael’s booked a spot in the semi-finals, but it was far from convincing for the Creeslough-Dunfanaghy representatives as Burt pushed them right to the bitter end.
Conor Harkin’s goal in the 45th minute brought hope and it says much that Burt will surely agonise for some time about a famous win they let slip from their grasp.
As so often has been the case, Colm McFadden helped pull the burning embers from the fire, the former Donegal star landing a score from a nigh-on-impossible angle before Andrew Kelly clipped over the clincher.
It could have been so different.
But had four goal chances over the hour and St Michael’s goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley could be credited with keeping out 1-2 as Michael Kelly’s team wriggled into the last four.
Burt sent a cat right among the Senior Championship’s pigeons with their goal.
Goalkeeper Kevin McDermott popped the kickout into the arms of Mickey McCann. He sent Mark Coyle scampering down the left with Harkin in hot pursuit.
Harkin took a pass round the back and made no mistake with a crisp, cool effort into the far corner that blew the game wide open.
Last October, Harkin was Burt’s hero with a two-goal salvo in the Intermediate final replay as they returned to the senior grade again.
When Daniel McLaughlin and Andrew Kelly pointed to restore the St Michael’s lead, Burt could have been forgiven for wilting.
But that’s not their way and they threw down the gauntlet to St Michael’s with Paul McHugh scoring with another goal chance before the experienced warhorse Ciaran Dowds levelled the tie again.
Burt had to wait until the 41st minute for Paul McHugh to land their first point from play – but it was worth the wait.
McHugh wonderfully spun over off the outside of his boot from distance.
Seconds later, veteran McCann was eye-balling McGinley, but he shot over the top and a big chance was gone.
But Burt stunned the 2011 finalists when Harkin beat McGinley and they smelled blood – but St Michael’s just managed to shake them off down the home straight.
The game was just nine minutes old when Burt were bold enough to get in for a big goal chance.
Harkin intercepted a St Michael’s kick-out and danced his way into position.
The problem for Harkin as he bore down on goal was that McGinley – Donegal’s number 1 – cut the target down to size.
McGinley made the save, but there was a feeling that Burt, perhaps, could rise to the occasion.
Paul McHugh slammed the resulting ’45 over the black spot and Burt were in front, after Kelly and Joe Boyle exchanged early frees.
Burt breached the line again midway through the first half, as Christopher McDermott held his own to feed McHugh, who drew a foul, right on the chalk of the large parallelogram. A couple of inches more and the Hibernian men would have had a penalty.
Boyle tapped over the free and Burt were 0-3 to 0-1 in front.
Burt had the lion’s share of the ball, but in a cagey affair they wouldn’t score again until the 40th minute.
Kelly got the first St Michael’s point in 18 minutes before Christy Toye stepped up to draw them level.
And they were back in front when Liam Paul Ferry drilled over, although Burt will have been disappointed to be four down at half-time after Colm McFadden (2) and Hugh O’Donnell added points.
St Michael’s registered six points without reply to go in 0-7 to 0-3 ahead at the break. They extended it to 0-9 to 0-3, but Burt are never beaten ’til it’s over.
The Inishowen men left everything and more on the pitch. But they also left what could have been, said McDermott, ‘the upset of the century’ behind them.
His reaction at the end was mirrored by those down the line from him.
St Michael’s, still standing, but only just know they have improving to do.
St Michael’s: Mark Anthony McGinley; Liam Kelly, Michael McGinley, Michael Gallagher; Ruairi Friel, Ciaran Gallagher, Oisin Langan (0-1); Martin McElhinney, Liam Paul Ferry (0-1); Ciaran Kelly, Colm McFadden (0-4, 3f), Daniel McLaughlin (0-1); Andrew Kelly (0-4, 1f), Christy Toye (0-1), Hugh O’Donnell (0-1). Subs: Odhran McFadden for C.Kelly (52), Michael Langan for O’Donnell (57)
Burt: Kevin McDermott; Darren Gallagher, Stephen O’Donnell, Rory Grant; Mark Coyle, Mickey McCann (0-1), Paul McHugh (0-3, 1 ’45); Ciaran Dowds (0-1), Stephen Gillespie; Dara Grant, Christopher McDermott, Conor Harkin (1-0); Enda McDermott, Joe Boyle (0-3, 3f), Sean McHugh. Subs: Georgie Kelly for C.McDermott (25), Martin Donaghey for E.McDermott (43), Ronan McDermott for Boyle (51), Mark McElhinney for K.McDermott (53), Joe Boyle for McCann (60).
Referee: Jimmy White (Killybegs).