A NERVY FINISH shouldn’t overly deter what was a splendid result for St Eunan’s in the St Paul’s Ulster Club Minor Tournament against Slaughtneil today.
St Eunan’s 0-16 Slaughtneil 2-7
The three-point quarter-final win in west Belfast might well have been much more, especially since the Letterkenny side – under the joint-management of Paul Carr, Eddie Brennan and Ciaran Maguire – were 0-16 to 0-6 to the good with four minutes to go.
Photo caption: The St Eunan’s panel before their St Paul’s Ulster Club Minor Tournament against Slaughtneil in Belfast today
But a goal from Keelan Feeney, who scored at the second attempt after Sean Halvey had blocked the first, gave the Derry side some hope and when Prionsais Burke slotted home a penalty two minutes later, there was an element of panic in the St Eunan’s ranks for the first time all afternoon.
But they steadied the ship.
Slaughtneil continued to go direct but even though Brian Cassidy scored a late free, St Eunan’s came though to set up a semi-final in three weeks’ time against either Antrim’s St Enda’s or Enniskillen from Fermanagh, who saw their last eight tie fall foul of the weather on Saturday.
To put St Eunan’s victory in perspective, it was Slaughtneil who, in October, overcame Watty Graham’s, Glen, 2-16 to 2-7 in the Derry decider. Watty Graham’s had won the last four provincial finals played at St Paul’s and clubs from the Oak Leaf County had won six out of the last eight titles.
Slaughtneil’s seniors have won back to back county championships, last year’s Ulster SFC and were All-Ireland Club SFC finalists on St Patrick’s Day, where they lost to Corofin from Galway.
For St Eunan’s today, Niall O’Donnell was undoubtedly the star of the show from an offensive sense, kicking eight points – six of which came from play.
Rory Carr, his stablemate in the county minors last year, gave St Eunan’s a physical presence in midfield but none of those in black and amber let themselves down.
The decision to play with the wind in the first half proved to be a worthwhile strategy.
Slaughtneil were having bother with their kick-outs, so much so their manager Pat Cassidy opted to swap goalkeepers on 19 minutes.
Corner-back James McCloskey was also trying from the tee but despite St Eunan’s pinning in their opponents early on, their lead was 0-6 to 0-4 five minutes before half-time.
With two Derry minors, Cassidy and Shane McGuigan, growing into the game while O’Donnell was getting some preferential treatment, the two-point margin might well have been something short of what was sought.
However, a booming finish to the half saw St Eunan’s spin off five points in just over three minutes, with O’Donnell scoring three of those and Oisin O’Boyle and Carr making for a profitable 0-11 to 0-4 half-time lead.
With the wind, which was never excessive, dying down St Eunan’s began the second half with intent. Defensively they were well-drilled, strong in the tackle and making use of their turnovers.
O’Donnell had fired over three more scores, while Dylan McGroary also added his second of the afternoon and by the 50th minute, the advantage had been rolled out to 0-14 to 0-6.
Carr and Kevin Kealy pointed to make it a 10-point game before Slaughtneil’s comeback hopes gained leverage when Feeney goaled in the 57th minute. There was always going to be a kick.
At that stage, the time for intricacies were long since passed and those in maroon continued their assault into the setting sun with direct balls.
Overall, St Eunan’s had been breaking even or better on that front but when Halvey was penalised for holding Mcguigan, Burke planted the penalty in Matthew Gallagher’s bottom corner.
Slaughtneil piled in balls and although Cassidy did add a late free the foundations that St Eunan’s had laid for the best part of the hour stood them in good stead. They’ll be back in Belfast with an Ulster final place to play for.
St Eunan’s: Matthew Gallagher; Conor Moore, Darragh McWalters, Sean Halvey; Brian MacIntyre, Darragh Toal, Kevin Kealy (0-1); Oisin Toal, Rory Carr (0-3); Oisin O’Boyle (0-1, 1f), Niall O’Donnell (0-8, 2fs), Ciaran Maloney (0-1); Dylan McGroary (0-2), Jake Whelan, Odhrán McGinley. Subs: Padraig McAleer for Whelan (49), Dean Hamilton for O’Boyle (55 mins).
— Slaughtneil GAC (@GACSlaughtneil) December 6, 2015