Aidan McAnespies 1-10 Donegal 0-11
It was a game that contained the best of the game – and the worst. There were ugly scenes in the first half as two major melees broke out. The result of both was a plethora of yellow cards, and one sending off. The best of it was the heart and determination shown by McAnespies, when a man down, and after losing their key midfield men, how they buckled down and against the odds, and made it to the 2017 final. The re-entry to the game of a taped up Danny McBride to see them over the line added a dramatic twist that the tale deserved.
|Ferghal McGeough on the move for McAnespies|
It was an incident packed first half in which there were numerous yellow cards were issued and one sending off. It was shaping up to be a good game of football before two melees broke out. One in the McAnespies goalmouth and shortly afterwards, in the Donegal half of the field. Referee Pa O’Driscoll was the center of attention as he took several minutes to try and sort out who was responsible for what, such was the degree of kicking, punching, and shoving from most of the players on the field. In fairness to O’Driscoll, he would have been justified in calling the game, but decided to issue a red card to Brian Breslin as he was adjudged to have been the starting point of the row. Others got away lightly with yellow cards, which at least players were on notice. Had reds been issued it could have been a 7 or 8 a side game, which was not what people turned up to see. We carried on in the hope that a game of football would break out. At the end of it, the crowd was treated to drama seldom seen in Canton, even among the numerous dramatic games over the years. On the football front McAnespies had netted through Marty Mongan who fisted a high ball over the line from the edge of the box, and playing the ball well from the back, McAnespies converted three points.
|Stephen McBrearty Shoots.|
Just before the fighting, Danny McBride had to leave play due to a wrist injury and, after the red for Breslin McAnespies lost their second midfielder. Few gave them a chance with a man down and their two most important players of the season on the sideline. Donegal had pointed through Ted Furman and a beautiful curler from Enda Varley. But McAnespies kept it tight in their own half of the field, and Donegal did not have not whole lot of room in which to operate. At the break it was McAnespies by a point, 1-3 to 0-5, and the buzz in the stands was all about the scenes that ended the half.
The second half saw McAnespies hold their own, and over the first 10 minutes outscored their opponents. Niall Rooney, Robbie Croft (2 frees) and Ferghal McGeough capitalized on opportunities from breaking out of defence. One felt that with the man advantage and the pedigree of players in the forward line, it would just be a matter of time before Donegal caught up. Fatigue was visibly wearing on players from both teams, but Donegal would have an edge down the stretch with that extra man.
Catch up they did. Brian Donnelly, McBrearty, Kevin Toner and McBrearty again pointed as Donegal found routes through the clogged McAnespies defence. McBrearty’s second point put Donegal one to the good and surely it was now a matter of adding a few more in the final minutes and preparing for a final. It was not over however. Like Larry Bird coming back into the game for the Celtics after getting getting hurt in 1991 or Paul Pierce coming back on the floor in 2008 after leaving the game in a wheelchair, Danny McBride reentered the game with his wrist taped to the cheers of the McAnespies supporters. McAnespies rallied and McBride immediately pointed from a free to level the scores. McAnespies got the lift they needed for the last 5 minutes with the game on the line. As the defence did its job and continued to make life difficult for Donegal, McAnespies forced Donegal into turnovers and patience saw them work the ball within scoring range. Donegal were forced into fouling when Che O’Donnell or Michael Walsh were on the ball and McAnespies capitalized by pointing a free (Croft) to put them ahead. To cap it off Fergal McGeough put the insurance over from out on the wing with a wonderful score. It was an amazing end to the game and McAnespies supporters have not exhibited such a level of delight in many years. Donegal will be wondering how the game slipped away from them, while McAnespies will be taking stock and tending to their wounds over the next week when they get ready to face the Shannon Blues.
Macs: Paddy Coakley, Tommy Brearton, Paul Clifford, Seamus Breslin, Eoin Delmer, Fergal McGeough, Brian Breslin, Danny McBride, Michael Walsh, Martin Mongan, Niall Rooney, Che O’Donnell, Robbie Croft.
Donegal: Christy McLaughlin, Jason Noctor, Conor Burke, Sean Doherty, Jack O’Brien, Derek Maguire, Eoghan Lafferty, Brian Donnelly, Sean Donnelly, Stephen McBrearty, Mike Finnegan, Enda Varley, Ted Furman.