Matthew Crossan’s scorching 47th minute goal fired Naomh Colmcille to a historic Ulster JFC final over Belnaleck at Celtic Park.
Naomh Colmcille 1-9 Belnaleck 0-6
Pictures by Joe Boland, North West News Pix
In what had been a game of inches until that point, Crossan’s goal felt seismic, even with 13 minutes left to play.
And so it proved as Naomh Colmcille became the first Donegal club to take hold of the Ulster Junior prize.
Four points in a deadly five-minute spell in the second half put Naomh Colmcille into the driving seat and Crossan’s cracking goal flicked on the after-burners.
Don Hegarty, as he had done in last week’s semi-final win over Tattyreagh, made a big difference and it was he who had the assist, making the ground on the stand side, off-loading to Crossan, who only had one thing in mind.
With one, powerful swing of his lethal left foot, Crossan rewrote history.
The Killea man’s finish was stunning, spinning around and emphatically finding the bottom corner from 20 metres.
With victory in the nostrils, Daniel Clarke landed a wonder score and Michael Lynch’s ice cool ’45 paved the path to Naomh Colmcille’s most famous hour.
They had heroes aplenty, not least in William Lynch, who had a big hour and their other stellar men stood tall, with William Gillespie, Daniel Clarke and Michael Lynch landing three points apiece.
Michael Lynch fired Naomh Colmcille into a third-minute lead after taking a short free from Clarke, who was very involved in the early stages.
Clarke himself tucked over to double the lead, but Belnaleck – the first Fermanagh team to reach the Ulster JFC final – were back level by the 17th minute.
Ciaran McBrien, in a move that stemmed from Eoin McGahey’s kick-out after Clarke’s score, got Gerry Flanagan’s men off the mark and Joseph Heavey evened the scores, clipping over having taken receipt of a clever knock down on the terrace side.
Heavey, with a 23rd minute free awarded when Michael Lynch fouled Peter Monaghan, had Belnaleck in front for the first time and he added another, from a 13-metre free.
Naomh Colmcille were in for a sniff of goal on a couple of occasions in the first half. Ciaran Devine hit the crossbar with one ambitious attempt and Devine went for the net again only for a stray arm to cushion the shot.
Naomh Colmcille’s shooting boots abandoned them for a time, during which they kicked four wides and popped another three shots into McGahey’s hands.
In added time at the end of the opening period, captain Willie Gillespie arched over to end a barren 22-minute spell for his side and it was a one-point game at the break, Belnaleck leading 0-4 to 0-3 at the short whistle.
Gillespie hoofed over from distance for an inspirational score eight minutes into the second half and Lynch tied it up instantly.
Their blushes had been spared in the early moments of the second half.
The big Naomh Colmcille support had their hearts in the mouths when Ciaran McBrien swung from close range after getting ahead of ‘keeper John Roulstone.
Frees by Gillespie and Clarke had them dreaming, but Conor McAuley raised the tensions again when he sliced over 14 minutes from the end to reduce the arrears.
Naomh Colmcille, relegated last year from the Intermediate grade, won the Donegal JFC title thanks to a dramatic final win over Red Hughs.
Their voyage through Ulster has been no less gripping. They showed real nerve to overcome Tyrone champions Tattyreagh in last week’s semi-final having dumped Ballymachugh from Cavan out at the quarter-final stage.
That was against the backdrop of Naomh Colmcille founder member and President James Dowds passing away a fortnight ago, resulting in the semi-final being put back by a week.
Dowds’ spirit has lived within them since and there could be no doubt this was a victory for Dowds and the men who kept their flame alight when there seemed no hope.
It was a night for their ages.
Naomh Colmcille: John Roulstone; Ricky Hegarty, Alex Devenney, Paul Friel; Kevin Gallagher, Ciaran Devine, Gerard Curran; Michael Lynch (0-3, 1f), Daniel Clarke (0-3, 1f); John Fullerton, Ryan McErlean, Oran Hilley; Matthew Crossan (1-0), Willie Gillespie (0-3, 1f), William Lynch. Subs: Michael Friel for Curran (43), Don Hegarty for Gallagher (43), Eddie Gillespie for Crossan (58), Conor Grant for Gillespie (60).
Belnaleck: Eoin McGahey; Pauric Owens, Che Cullen, Ronan Quigley; Sean Lewsley, Kane Connor, Mark McKenzie; Dermot Lewsley, Dwayne McNulty; Darragh McGurn, Conor McAuley (0-1), Peter Monaghan; Bryan Owens, Ciaran McBrien (0-2), Joseph Heavey (0-3, 2f), Subs: Lee Cullen for D.Lewsley (45), Jonathan Owens for B.Owens (49), Mark Gallagher for McNulty (55), Gareth Presley for P.Owens (59).
Referee: Maggie Farrelly (Cavan).