Old agonies relived as sun sets on Ardara’s Championship hopes

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For Ardara, it wasn’t quite the pain of ’95, but when Tommy Hourihane slapped home a late goal for Bundoran to alter the course of the 2018 Donegal SFC on Sunday evening, the air around Pearse Memorial Park darkened considerably.

It wasn’t just that darkness was descending anyway, but when Hourihane struck goal, in the 66th minute of a dramatic evening, Ardara’s Championship hopes fell asunder.

It was a remarkable moment.

Ardara were on level terms thanks to a Paddy McGrath goal. They’d let a six-point half-time lead slip and Bundoran only hit the front for the first time with ten minutes to go.

Even then, McGrath’s goal revived them – and kept them in the Championship.

Bundoran needed at least a three-point win to usurp Ardara. 

It was all over in Glenswilly, where the locals defeated Burt to book a quarter-final slot.

At Pairc Naomh Columba, a crowd huddled around a radio belonging to Glenswilly clubman Paddy McGinty. The sums were done and Ardara appeared through.

With time up and added time also at a minimum, Gary Clancy fisted one last, hopeful ball across the square. Time stood still and Hourihane tucked home.

It meant the teams were level on points.

Bundoran’s Tommy Hourihane

They were inseparable on points difference (-1), too. 

So, it came down to points scored. 

Bundoran squeezed through, here, having scored eight points more than Ardara (4-23 to 6-9) in the relevant fixtures. 

Nightfall had just about set in when the Donegal Competitions Controls Committee (CCC) were arranging the balls to go into draw for the quarter-finals with the locals in Kentucky still attempting to come to terms with how they’d managed to miss out on a number. 

They played for over three hours in the group phase and were behind for only 24 minutes.

Against Glenswilly on the opening day, they trailed for two brief periods of seven and then four minutes. Burt led them for just three minutes at the start pf their meeting at Hibernian Park.

The final Group A standings

They were in command for most of the way on Sunday, bar a nine-minute spell before McGrath’s goal.

Until, that was, Hourihane scored and Ardara had to endure the ultimate agony. There was barely a minute after Hourihane hit then net and Ardara missed out by one of the most unfortunate of factors. 

They still puff out their cheeks in frustration around those parts at mention of ’95: A four-game saga with their fierce foes, Naomh Conaill.

Those were the days of the first round ties being played over two legs. 

Jonathan Boyle kicked 11 points in a drawn first leg in Ardara. They were level once more at Davy Brennan Park.

Ardara wonder to this day about what happened next. 

Ardara were six up in the play-off – goals by Boyle and Michael Doherty having them 2-5 to 0-5 in front – but the Glenties men salvaged a draw with goals from Dessie O’Donnell and Martin Doherty.

In the replay – the fourth instalment – Naomh Conaill forced a draw after seven minutes of added time. The Ardara supporters were whistling for time when Patrick Roarty slotted over to force extra time.

The drama was only begining.

With John Gildea and Jim McGuinness driving them on, Naomh Conaill began to think the impossible was possible.

And so it proved. 

A goal from full-back Connie Doherty – better known now as a referee in Donegal – gave Naomh Conaill what was at the time a historic win over their neighbours.

Ardara, though, were incensed. Mick McGrath, now the county chairman, was referee and had to be escorted from the field by Gardaí. 

It took some 268 minutes to separate them.

An image from 1995 of John Gildea scoring a penalty for Naomh Conaill and celebrating against Ardara

For some of those trying to make sense of the digits on the calculators on Sunday, they were transported back 23 years.

The pain mightn’t have been as grave, but to miss out on points scored and having been behind for only 24 of around 195 minutes played, it will be naturally hard to take.

It’s not the first time – nor even the tightest, either – it has happened in recent years.

In 2014, Kilcar had to beat Bundoran by 30 points, but came up short. That was in spite of a 5-13 to 0-3 hammering. Kilcar went out by three points, but the damage had been done in a previous game where they failed to score for the first 45 minutes against St Michael’s and they lost by nine points. 

Glenswilly and St Michael’s went through on +23 points differences with KIlcar out, their tally amounting to +21.

The same year, Termon advanced at Gaoth Dobhair’s expense on a head-to-head basis.

In 2013, the first year of the group stages, Malin got through instead of Naomh Conaill on points difference. While St Eunan’s were beating Naomh Conaill 2-15 to 3-9, Malin annihilated Cloughaneely 2-16 to 0-1. 

But then there was 2015.

Naomh Muire went out in the cruelest way possible.

Following the concession of a late goal to Killybegs’ Hugh McFadden, Naomh Muire still won 0-14 to 2-5 at the Banks only to learn they had been knocked out by Termon on points scored.

It was Naomh Muire’s first ever senior championship win – but still wasn’t enough.

Naomh Muire and Termon drew their game and their points difference was level. Termon, though, went through having scored only three points more in the group – 3-31 to 0-37.

The fact they are not alone will be of little consolation to Ardara. 

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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