Milford’s wait is over at last. Two goals, an early one by Darragh Black and a late clincher by Cathal McGettigan, bridged a 25-year gap as the Intermediate Championship returned to Moyle View Park amid delirious scenes at O’Donnell Park.
Milford 2-11 St Naul’s 0-12
By Chris McNulty at O’Donnell Park. Pictures by Joe Boland, North West News Pix
Milford had 1-4 on the board by the 16th minute, but had scored only six more points and their fingernails were considerably shorter when their faithful erupted a second time.
There was only a minute of normal time left when Tony McNamee, after a jostle with Lee McBrearty, swept the ball along the floor into McGettigan. With only Gavin Mulreany, the St Naul’s replacement goalkeeper to beat, McGettigan’s shot was a bullet containing 12 months of hurt. McGettigan slammed home emphatically and Milford could finally let that pent up pain into the Letterkenny sky.
Milford were back at the scene of their devastation from last year and they were in need of that late tonic by McGettigan having been pushed every inch of the road by St Naul’s.
It has been a long road back for the Danny O’Donnell-managed team, since that evening when their dreams were dashed by Burt. Having had the rug pulled from beneath their soles in the first game, they were hit by a late rally in the replay as Burt snatched the Cathal McLaughlin Cup from them just when their colours were about to be knotted on the handles.
And the jitters were evident here as St Naul’s eroded the deficit bit by minute bit until Stephen Griffin levelled things up in the 43rd minute with a free.
They were level again when Mulreany pipped over a free, but McGettigan stepped up with the magic moment. McGettigan addd a free and a salute to his supporters in the stand told the story in a single frame.
The opening three-pointer had arrived in the 14th minute, during a period of Milford dominance.
The move started with a superb cross-field pass from Gary Merritt to Kane Barrett. When the ball was transferred to Tony McNamee, Milford smelled blood.
McNamee jinked his way into position and might’ve gone for goal himself. He took the unselfish option, instead off-loading to Black, who tucked past Patrick Burke with ease.
Black was in a second time early in the second half. Kane Barrett’s persistence paid off when he held on before releasing Black, but this time Burke deflected away.
Peadar Mogan had opened the scoring after just 35 seconds, but Kane Barrett and Luke Barrett (free) turned the tables.
Pauric Curley floated over a point that outlined Milford’s ever-growing confidence before Black lit the fuse when he found the bottom corner.
Christopher Barrett put Milford six ahead, but they lost their way somewhat in the second quarter.
By the time the ball was being thrown in for the second half, St Naul’s were within three points. Three Mogan frees in the last three minutes of the half raised the hopes of the Mountcharles men.
Mogan hit five points in the first half and St Naul’s began to make a fist of it.
John McNulty’s men had reached the decider despite having won just two of their six Championship contests.
Indeed, they didn’t win at all in the group phase, eking through the gap in the door on points difference when they salvaged a last-gasp draw in Downings.
When they were six down against Gaeil Fhánada in the semi-final, they seemed in grave danger, but they pulled that back and got a second bite before impressively clearly the penultimate hurdle thanks to a replay win.
There was some controversy amid the half-time conversations with referee Connors and the scoreboard operator having given Milford an extra score. All in the press box concurred that it was 1-6 to 0-6 and the video was quickly reviewed before the scoreline was corrected.
Just 17 seconds into the new half, Stewart Johnston curled over and St Naul’s were just two points in arrears.
Stephen Griffin’s return had been key as he came back to inspire a low-scoring quarter-final win over Glenfin and the former Donegal panelist was central to the St Naul’s hopes.
Griffin had been kept scoreless by Milford until he broke his duck with a free in the 36th minute. The St Naul’s captain converted four frees and the sides were level for the first time in well over half-an-hour.
Griffin, though, pulled two frees wide of the mark with chances to put St Naul’s ahead and Milford shook their heads clear to seal their first Intermediate crown since 1992, when many of the current class weren’t even born.
In Merritt, they had the game’s outstanding performer and a player who will surely be whatever roster the watching Declan Bonner and John McElholm are putting together for 2018.
Others, too, are sure to be looked at as Milford make their return to the senior championship’s ranks.
Milford: Caolan McGettigan; TJ Evesson, Barry McNulty, Ryan McMahon; David Curley, Paddy Peoples. Gary Merritt (0-1); Joey Cullen, Luke Barrett (0-3, 3f); Christopher Barrett (0-2), Darragh Black (1-1), Cathal McGettigan (1-2, 2f); Pauric Curley (0-1), Kane Barrett (0-1), Tony McNamee. Subs: Ronan Docherty for McMahon (44), Kyle Black for P.Curley (48), Jonny Logue for K.Barrett (60), Sean Black for D.Black (60).
St Naul’s: Patrick Burke; Conor Gavigan, Brendan McCole, Conor McBrearty; Daniel Friel, Edward Kane, Martin Breslin; Lee McBrearty, Stephen Griffin (0-4, 4f); Barry Rose, Peadar Mogan (0-5, 4f), Barry Griffin; Stewart Johnston (0-2), Shane Conneely, John Rose. Subs: Cathal Lowther for B.Rose (53). Subs: Gavin Mulreany (0-1, 1f) for Burke (54), Aiden Meehan for Friel (56), James Flynn for Connelly (58).
Referee: James Connors (St Eunan’s).