The group of death it was billed, but it’s Gaoth Dobhair who, with one game left, are cleaning the blood from their sword and looking forward to the quarter-finals.
Gaoth Dobhair 0-12 Naomh Conaill 0-6
By Chris McNulty at Magheragallon
Gaoth Dobhair are heading for the last eight after muscling away from a wasteful Naomh Conaill at windy Magheragallon.
Picture: Dáire Ó Baoill on the attack for Gaoth Dobhair against Naomh Conaill.
When Naomh Conaill led by two points after three minutes of the second half, the natives were becoming restless.
Naomh Conaill kicked it away, registering a staggering 15 wides in all. Martin Regan’s side scored only once in the second half and nothing at all in the last half-an-hour of the action.
When they trailed by two, Gaoth Dobhair needed inspiration and they got it from Odhrán Mac Niallais.
With the wind in his sails, Mac Niallais soared over a free from beyond 60 metres and it was just the spur Gaoth Dobhair needed.
If anyone was unaware of what this one meant, the welcome to Gaoth Dobhair said it all. Green and white flags were erected all over the parish in the lead-up to this one and a statement of their intent, taken from the lyrics of The Two Brendans, lay neatly placed on the approach road to the pitch.
“We’re a special kind of people here. We breed defiance, we never fear.”
They were up for this one, alright.
Gaoth Dobhair hurt long and hard following a 2017 semi-final defeat to the Glenties men. Six up at half-time, Gaoth Dobhair were almost punching their tickets for the final, but they were broken down and beaten by Naomh Conaill’s second-half comeback in Ballybofey.
The memories of that soaking Ballybofey night lingered in the minds beneath Errigal since.
The teams were level for the fifth time in the 38th minute as Cian Mulligan wormed his way through to fist over.
Eamon McGee’s influence was growing and he set up Mulligan to put Gaoth Dobhair into a lead they would hold until the end.
Substitute Eamon Collum sneaked over a point with his first touch after McGee and Kevin Cassidy combined well and by the time an absorbing contest came to a close, Gaoth Dobhair had double scores to spare.
Gary McFadden superbly curbed the influence of Ciaran Thompson, keeping him scoreless from play and Gaoth Dobhair had big contributions all over the park. In the dying moments, Anthony Thompson attempted to burrow his way through, but the again-excellent Odhrán McFadden-Ferry stopped him in his tracks with an excellent intervention.
Mac Niallais swung over a glorious point and captain Niall Friel raised the decibels from the home followers in a big crowd with a fine point.
Gaoth Dobhair showed two changes from the side that eked out a narrow win over St Eunan’s in a sometimes ill-tempered contest last Sunday. Michael Carroll and Gavin McBride were restored to the starting XV, in place of Dan McBride and Collum, while Naomh Conaill returned their captain, Brendan McDyer, taking the spot of Dermot Molloy in the visiting attack.
Eoghan McGettigan, who has missed last weekend’s destruction of Dungloe in Glenties, was a late entrant to the Naomh Conaill team-sheet, as Ethan O’Donnell dropped out.
The teams were level three times in a cagey opening 20 minutes and it was a time when Naomh Conaill were left cursing their profligacy.
Space was at a premium and Naomh Conaill, playing with the stiff breeze at their backs, kicked three wides in a row, all of them from positions where they’d have expected to raise white flags, but Anthony Thompson found a pocked to manoeuvre and fired over. It was a moment when a goal seemed on, but Thompson went for power over precision.
Kevin Cassidy popped Gaoth Dobhair back in front, but it was short-lived.
Eoin Waide tucked over after McLoone forced a way through and corner-back Aaron Thompson nailed a long-range effort.
Naomh Conaill led 0-5 to 0-4 at half-time, but the lead ought fo have been greater as Ciaran Thompson was off target from a free that was the final kick of the opening half.
It was a seventh wide of part one for Naomh Conaill; a statistic that will have gnawed at Martin Regan as he headed to rally his troops for the second instalment.
Thompson slotted over a free, against the gale this time, to put Naomh Conaill 0-6 to 0-4 in front.
Remarkably, it would be Naomh Conaill’s final score of the afternoon and Gaoth Dobhair hit the next eight to march into the quarter-finals.
Their’s will be an ominous and formidable presence for the knockout phase.
Gaoth Dobhair: Christopher Sweeney; Gary McFadden, Neil McGee, Christopher McFadden; Niall Friel (0-2), Kieran Gillespie (0-1), Odhrán McFadden-Ferry; Dáire Ó Baoill, Odhrán Mac Niallais (0-4, 3f); Cian Mulligan (0-2), Naoise Ó Baoill, Eamon McGee; Gavin McBride (0-1f), Kevin Cassidy (0-1), Michael Carroll. Subs: Eamon Collum (0-1) for McBride (45), Peter McGee for E.McGee (56), Seaghan Ferry for Carroll (60).
Naomh Conaill: Stephen McGrath; Aaron Thompson (0-1), AJ Gallagher, Jason Campbell; Ultan Doherty, Anthony Thompson (0-1), Eoin Waide (0-1); Kieran Gallagher, Leo McLoone (0-1); Kevin McGettigan, Marty Boyle, Eunan Doherty; Eoghan McGettigan, Ciaran Thompson (0-2f), Brendan McDyer. Subs: John O’Malley for McDyer (21), Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí for Gallagher (52)
Referee: Enda McFeely (St Mary’s, Convoy)