RED HUGH’S QUEST to become the first Donegal team since 2004 to reach an All-Ireland club final fell short when they went down to Easkey from Sligo today.
Red Hugh’s 0-9 Easkey 1-8
Report from Alan Foley in Ballinamore
A goal by Easkey’s James Lindsay midway through the second half meant the Donegal and Ulster champs had a mountain to climb at five points down in the All-Ireland JFC semi-final.
Red Hugh’s, as they do, rallied. In the end though, they had gone to the well once too often and the curtains finally closed on their memorable season. It means that St Michael’s, some 13 years ago, remain the only side from the county to reach the national final.
Gaoth Dobhair now carry the county’s flag as they face Corofin from Galway in the senior semi-final next month in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Sean O’Heslin’s Park in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, played host today. Conditions were heavy underfoot with the playing surface in need of a short back and sides.
Red Hugh’s were going to have to do it the hard way. The side from Killygordon were four points at the break after a frustrating first half in which they didn’t score from play.
It was 0-7 to 0-3 at half-time and Ryan McKenna scored four points for Easkey. For Red Hugh’s, who trailed 0-4 to 0-3 on 15 minutes, Damien Browne scored all their points from frees.
If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then it doesn’t overrule the scoreboard. Red Hugh’s perhaps had as much or more of the ball in the first half but were constantly frustrated by the stout Easkey defence.
There was a blue wall time and again and Easkey used that foundation to spring into attack and the impressive Rory McHugh was on the scoreboard, as were Andrew Kilcullen and Kevin Duffy.
McKenna might’ve got a goal right at the end of the half but could only shoot over; it was his fourth of the half.
Red Hugh’s have shown their ability to bounce back throughout their excellent run this season and knew that although they would have to up their game, they would have the advantage of a bit of a second-half wind.
The Sligo team have enjoyed and endured an eventful few years. Having won their domestic Intermediate championship in 2015, they promptly suffered back-to-back relegations to find themselves catapulted from the senior bracket back into the junior ranks.
However, the seeds of their resurgence was sown last year with a victory over Owenmore Gaels to win the Sligo JFC. And then in the provincial decider, McKenna scored a majestic winner to see off Clonbur from Galway on a 1-11 to 1-10 scoreline in the replayed final.
It was McKenna who opened the scoring for the Sligo team on just 28 seconds but Red Hugh’s managed to level 90 seconds later when Damien Browne slotted over a routine free.
The side managed by Seosamh Mac Ceallabhui had made the last four courtesy of Donegal and Ulster JFC wins, which both preceded an extra-time success over Dunedin Connolly’s from Edinburgh in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Letterkenny last month.
Red Hugh’s needed something at the start of the second half and they needed something fast. You could see the fire in their bellies as they re-emerged for the second period to the support of many inside the excitable 1500 or so in attendance.
Two points in two minutes – another Browne free and Red Hugh’s first from play on 32 minutes with Odhran Doherty and scorer – and suddenly the deficit was halved.
Red Hugh’s were enjoying the momentum but two balls dropped short into the arms of Shane Kilgallon, the Easkey goalkeeper. His opposite number, Ciaran Kelly, breathed a huge sigh of relief on 43 minutes when he spilled in a ball from Kilcullen and Red Hugh’s eventually managed to scramble the ball free for a 45.
That, though, was only the half the story as the vital goal for Easkey came from the next play. Wing-back Lindsay found the ball on the edge of a crowded square from a flick by the experienced Eugene Mullan and planted the ball past Kelly. With 16 minutes to play, their 1-7 to 0-5 lead looked insurmountable.
Browne, from play, pulled one back, only for Joe McHugh to re-establish the five-point Easkey lead. Dessie Sloyan’s team intelligently played it out and it will be they who will carry the dream to Croke Park.
Browne and the hero of the Ulster final, Johnny Carlin, scored points in injury time to give some flirtatious notions. Three down, Red Hugh’s needed a goal and it wasn’t to come. Calvin Bradley did manage a point with the penultimate kick of the match.
Red Hugh’s, backed till the bitter end and beyond by their fantastic support, can, when the dust settles, look back on a season of their dreams.
Red Hugh’s: Ciaran Kelly; Cathal Doherty, Eugene Browne, Shane McGlinchey, Gerard Melaugh, Thomas McMenamin, Ryan Kelly, Peadar McGlinchey, Stephen McMenamin; Damian Browne (0-6, 5f), Odhran Doherty (0-1), Pauric McMenamin; Shane Gallagher, Gary Kelly, Calvin Bradley (0-1). Subs: Colm Melaugh for C Doherty (44), Johnny Carlin (0-1) for O Doherty (50)
Easkey:Shane Kilgannon; Ian Barrett, Noel McGuire, John Feeney; Eanna Moylan, Rory McHugh (0-1), James Lindsay (1-0); Eugene Mullen, Mike Gordon; Dylan Sloyan, Joe McHugh, Emmet Healy; Andrew Kilcullen (0-1), Ryan McKenna (0-4, 2f), Kevin Duffy (0-1). Sub: Jonathan Conway for Duffy (59), Declan Brennan and Brendan McGrath for Moylan and Healy (60+3)
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford)Tags: