MOMENTUM overcame meticulousness as Naomh Conaill used their instinct to overcome Castlerahan from Cavan in the AIB Ulster Club SFC quarter-final at Kingspan Breffni Park this afternoon.
Naomh Conaill 1-11
A competent all-round Naomh Conaill performance with Ciaran Thompson netting the only goal of the game five minutes before half-time rounded off an excellent week for the team from Davy Brennan Memorial Park.
It was a nervy conclusion, though, as Castlerahan came from seven points down to two late on and the roar at the end from the sizable Naomh Conaill support was sprinkled with a sense of relief. But they got there in the end.
The Glenties-based side had come through a second replay on Wednesday night to win the Dr Maguire Cup for the fourth time, with a last-minute John O’Malley point eventually proving decisive in an 0-8 to 0-7 win over Gaoth Dobhair at MacCumhaill Park.
A late night, as Leo McLoone Snr sang on the stage “coming through Fintown with the cup” and whatever Thursday brought were well-merited celebrations. Today, they brushed off the cobwebs against a team they’d less than four days to prepare for and will now look to further iron out any creases as they face Clontibret in the semi-final this day fortnight.
Naomh Conaill’s preparations mightn’t have been as thorough as they might’ve liked. But belief in their own abilities and not forgetting the hard yards they’d put in all season stood to them in the end. Today was all about winning.
Castlerahan, on the other hand, had defeated Ramor United three weeks ago to claim their second League and SFC double in Cavan, retaining the titles they won 12 months previously. They’d also lost three successive county finals in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Managers Dermot Keoghan and Ouray McBride would’ve had at least three viewings of Naomh Conaill in the flesh.
But it would count for nothing.
Brendan McDyer opened the scoring for Naomh Conaill on three minutes before Kieran Gallagher doubled that advantage on 10. Castlerahan had hit four wides to open and had their goalkeeper Jamie Leahy to thank for making a superb save down low from Gallagher after Ciaran Thompson had claimed the ball initially.
Ciaran Thompson popped over the 45 and then Charles McGuinness added a free made it 0-4 to 0-0 on 17 minutes in front of the 2,753 crowd.
Castlerahan were having bother from the goalkeeper’s tee but when they finally broke clear of the shackles, managed to open their account belatedly through Cormac Daly on 19 minutes and then Barry Ennis added a second a minute later. That made it 0-4 to 0-2, with Naomh Conaill still in front but being pressed for the first time.
After an Anthony Thompson point, a fantastic goal on 25 minutes from his brother Ciaran gave Naomh Conaill a 1-5 to 0-2 cushion. Ciaran Thompson played a neat give-and-go with McGuinness and cut in from the left before steering past Leahy having made the angle.
The response from Castlerahan was positive, as they spun off three points in succession from Stephen Cooney, Karl Cosgrave and Daly, while Stephen McGrathn in the Naomh Conaill goal had to save from Enda Flanagan late in the half.
Flanagan also got in on the Naomh Conaill goal but didn’t fancy the shot and overplayed his fisted pass. All things said and done, Naomh Conaill would’ve been satisfied with their 1-5 to 0-5 interval lead, although would’ve been wise to heed the warning signs from Castlerahan, who’d kicked seven wides to two for the away team.
Martin Regan made one change from the Donegal SFC second replay, with Eoin Waide, who was an absentee with a hamstring injury, coming back in at the expense of Eoghan McGettigan.
Breffni Park was where it ended for Naomh Conaill in their most successful escapade into provincial waters in 2010, when they lost out to Crossmaglen Rangers in the final. On the way to the showpiece, Naomh Conaill overcame Clontibret 2-12 to 0-9 in a Ballybofey quarter-final.
Cian Mackey was thrown into the fray two minutes into the second half, although it was McGuinness and Anthony Thompson who found their range with early scores.
Although Daly scored his third of the afternoon, Ciaran Thompson’s free on 39 minutes, a fisted effort from Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí and a customary point from substitute Dermot Molloy meant Naomh Conaill were keeping their opponents at arm’s length and more.
They were now 1-10 to 0-6 up and for all intents and purposes, looked to have taken the necessary precautions to weather the storm before it ever came. But it was coming and Castlerahan just threw the kitchen sink and whatever dish water there was at Naomh Conaill in the final 10 minutes – as they had done in the first half.
Sean Brady, Ronan Flanagan and Cosgrave pulled three back for Castlerahan , making it a four-point game, 1-10 to 0-9, and there were a couple more jittery moments for Naomh Conaill in the final few minutes.
Naomh Conaill’s legs were tiring and with 69 minutes on the clock, Cosgrave put over a close-range free and there was just a goal in it. Gavin Daly, the Castlerahan wing-back, was given a straight red card for pushing a linesman.
AJ Gallagher had to block from Brady as he went for goal in injury time after McGrath had batted out a ball that was dangerous from Mackey. Daly added his fourth point and it was down to two.
In the melting pot, Ciaran Thompson caught a fantastic ball to draw a foul from Daly in a move that concluded with Anthony Thompson pointing for the third time.
And that was that. There’s at least one more chapter to pen in the story of Naomh Conaill’s rollercoaster season.
Castlerahan: Jamie Leahy; Stephen Cooney (0-1), Killian McEnroe, Enda O’Connell; Shane O’Reilly, Oisin Kiernan, Fergal Reilly; Pauric Smith, Cormac Daly (0-4); Karl Cosgrave (0-3, 1f), Brian Ennis (0-1), Paul Smith; Oisin O’Connell, Ronan Flanagan (0-1), Enda Flanagan. Subs : Cian Mackey for S O’Reilly (33), Gavin Daly for McEnroe (41), Sean Brady (0-1) for Ennis (43), Fergal Flanagan for P Smith (53).
Naomh Conaill:Stephen McGrath; Ultan Doherty, AJ Gallagher, Kevin McGettigan; Ethan O’Donnell, Anthony Thompson (0-3), Eoin Waide; Ciaran Thompson (1-2, 1f, 45), Leo McLoone; Brendan McDyer (0-1), Marty Boyle, Eunan Doherty; Jeaic Mac Ceallabhuí (0-1), Charles McGuinness (0-2, 1f), Kieran Gallagher (0-1). Subs: Dermot Molloy (0-1) for McGuinness (37), Stephen Molloy for Boyle (43), Nathan Byrne for O’Donnell (49), John O’Malley for McDyer (52), Hughie Gallagher for Waide (56), Boyle for K Gallagher (60).
Referee:Ciaran Branagan (Down).Tags: