Monday, August 27, 2018

Sun Aug 26 - Senior Football Final: Wolfe Tones v Donegal

Wolfe Tones 1-12 Donegal 0-17

In front of a crowd of 2,000 or so, on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon and with a light breeze blowing, Donegal answered questions that hung over this team in the season finale.  Despite having won their previous 5 games, performances were not entirely convincing.  Wolfe Tones had assembled a team that had a lethal set of forwards, and had a very balanced look about them.  As it turned out the Donegal defence put in a superb performance, limiting the vaunted Tones forwards to 13 hard earned scores.  At the other end of the field, Dermot Connolly turned it on and put on a display of passing and shooting that showed why he has, hands down, been the best footballer there is for that past several years.

Captains Jason Noctor and Mike O'Brien with referee David Hickey.
The game was probably the best, most exciting display of football on U.S. soil in recent years.  The scoring, defending, passing and fielding from each side was second to none and the ball moved from end to end with speed and skill.  The most there was between the sides was 4 points and lead changed hands five times over the course of the game as each team vied for the advantage.  Dermot Connolly pointed 12 of Donegal’s 17 points, with left foot or right, and evenly split from frees (many were earned himself) and play, it was the best performance of the summer from the St. Vincent’s man.  Derryman, Niall Keenan at corner back, was also in contention for a man of the match performance, and along with Liam Silke frustrated the Tones corner forwards for the hour.  Worthy of note was that in such a game, Jack Lynch and Paudie Kenneally, both home grown players who lined out in the Tones back line, each had excellent performances and looked right at home on a field laden with top tier footballers.  
The opening exchanges were tight and there was little to no room for either side to gain an opening.  It took the best part of 10 minutes to open the scoring.  Lee Carr got Donegal off the mark with a point from play, and for the Tones it was Aaron Elliott who answered.  Things opened up gradually as the minutes ticked by.  Jason Noctor had the unenviable task of marking Tones dangerman, Thomas O’Reilly.  O’Reilly finished the game with 4 points, all in the second half, but along with Neil McEneaney and Sean Doherty, the all home-based Donegal half back line performed well. 

Donegal Celebrate a Great Championship Victory.
The Tones tried to get their running game going, but each time it looked as though there could be breakthrough, Keenan or Silke were there at the last line to snuff out the danger.  Shane Carthy on another occasion tracked back to deny possession to Ronan Jones who would have had the goal at his mercy.  With the scores at 3 points each, Dermot Connolly clipped over a lovely point.  Connolly was on song, the passing, shooting and decision making of star player was impeccable.  Chris Sallier answered with a hard earned point for the Tones to restore parity.  Donegal gained an initiative in the latter stages of the half.  Ciaran McFaul, Connolly, and Carthy pointed one each, to a single score from Thomas Beckett, in the run in to the break to put Donegal in a 0-7 to 0-5 half time lead.

After Donegal extended their lead by 2 more points to the largest lead of the game, the first score a brilliant Connolly strike from out on the wing, the Tones needed a goal and they got it.  Beckett found Jones with in rare space with a cross field ball, and the Meath youngster gave Hugh Boyle no chance with the shot.  O’Reilly leveled it with a well taken point and it was game on again.  The intensity level never let up, and Donegal’s corner backs continued to play well to weather the Tones endeavors.  Dean Curran and James Dolan were introduced to try and get some change out of the Donegal defenders, and Beckett put the side ahead with another point.

The tension was palpable around the grounds in Canton as the teams could not be separated entering the final stretch, however big players step up and big moments, and so it was as Connolly turned up the heat.  Each time the Tones went up by one, Donegal answered through Connolly.  With the game entering the last 5 minutes Donegal pushed out a two point lead.  O’Reilly, who was the stand out player for the Tones, put his side up by one, but Oisin O’Neill leveled.  The score of the game, and the eventual winner, came from Connolly who dummied right and shot left from 40 yards and the ball sailed high and true between the posts.  McFaul made it a two point lead with the game in crunch time, and it felt like the scales had tipped towards Donegal.  Curran had a couple of chances to pull back a score, but the Derry man snatched at the opportunities.  O’Reilly did make it a one point game, but two from Connolly on the cusp of the whistle left the Tones needing a goal to force extra time.  Elliott pulled one back, but the final kickout was won by Donegal and with it the final whistle sounded. 

It was jubilation for Donegal, and for the Tones huge disappointment.  For the folks who showed up to see the game, it was a rare treat to see such a great game, and a master of it, in the flesh.

Tones:  Shane Hayes, Paudi Kenneally, Kevin Maguire, Eoin Buggie, Jack Lynch, James McEntee, Ronan Jones, Paddy Keenan, Mike O’Brien, Thomas O’Reilly, Aaron Elliott, Thomas beckett, Chris Sallier.  Subs used:  James Dolan, Dean Curran, Robbie Cunningham, Oisin Kelly.

Donegal:  Hugh Boyle, Niall Keenan, Liam Silke, Neil McEneaney, Jason Noctor, Sean Doherty, Shane Carthy, Brendan Murphy, Ciaran McFaul, Michael Carroll, Sean Donnelly, Diarmaid Connolly, Lee Carr.  Subs used:  Oisin O’Neill, Dylan Wall, Owen McHugh.
By Rory O'Donnell

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