Sunday, August 18, 2019

Sun Aug 18 - Senior Football Final: Aidan McAnespies v Donegal

Donegal 3-15 Aidan McAnespies 2-17

What a game of football it was for the final game of the season at the Irish Cultural Center in Canton Mass.  There have been some brilliant finals over the years on the main field, and this will be up there the best of them.  Two fantastic teams, some superb scores, and a finish that nobody could have expected.  It ended up as stunned disbelief for Aidan McAnespies and their supporters and sheer jubilation for Donegal.  When Barry John Keane’s shot flew inside the post in injury time, there was a damburst of emotions on the Donegal side of the field and total disbelief on the side of the Macs.  McAnespies looked like they had done the job after opening a 7 point lead in what had been a neck and neck tie, and with only 4 minutes to go it looked as good as over.  In an amazing turn of events Donegal netted three times, 2 from Keane and one a Gary Walsh penalty, to literally swipe the championship away from their opponents in the last seconds of the game. 

Declan Hughes and Jason Noctor with match
referee John Hickey.
Donegal looked to have control for most of the first half with the midfield and forward line motoring.  Mark Bradley and Barry John were on form, with Keane kicking a couple of great scores.  Gary Walsh was on song with the frees as the McAnespies defence were forced into fouling on a couple of occasions.  Donegal were humming along.  McAnespies tried to get their forwards going, and on a couple of occasions Steven O’Hanlon got free and put one great point over the bar.  Robbie Smyth accounted for three, and Tony Brosnan one lovely effort. 

With Donegal ahead by a point, McAnespies won a penalty after Niall Toner entered the game following an injury to Oisin McConvey.  Toner was pulled down in the area and Smyth’s penalty beat Hugh Boyle low to his left.  Donegal responded well, however, finishing the half scoring three points to one.  Keane again, Walsh, and Ciaran Murtagh all hit the mark as Donegal maintained their stride.  At the half time whistle it was a 0-10 to 1-6 Donegal lead with McAnespies still looking to click into gear.

The teams opened the second half with a point each from free kicks before each side pointed from play, one score as good as the other.  Smyth finished a great move at one end for McAnepies before Ciaran Murthagh answered with a fantastic point.  It was end to end stuff and neither side could pull away from the other.  As the half wore it McAnespies started to get control of the game and ran at their opponents at every opportunity.  Three points on the trot opened a gap, with O’Hanlon’s running and agility causing major problems for the Donegal defenders.  Tony Brosnan was kept quiet enough, but he also managed to find some openings and pointed twice and the lead widened to 4.

Even when Walsh put two points over for Donegal, McAnespies returned the favor through Brosnan and Niall Toner, who was doing some trojan work carrying the ball to the heart of the Donegal defence time and again. Then came a goal for McAnespies with 6 minutes to go.  It was finished by Daniel Guinness but started by Pierce Laverty, who made a 30 yard run and after a couple of exchanges inside the box, Guinness palmed the ball home.  O’Hanlon added a point to make it 7 between the teams and McAnespies looked like they just needed to play out time.

The winning Donegal team celebrate with Canton PD officer, Helena Rafferty.
Well, it did not exactly end the way anybody in the crowd, no matter what persuasion, could have expected.  Walsh had hit the foot off the post in the midst of the McAnespies scoring run, and , rather than a harbinger of a bad luck for Donegal, in hindsight it was a warning for McAnespies as Donegal soon netted.  Walsh set up a pass across the face of the McAnespies goal for a leaping Keane to force into the open net.  Within a minute, Donegal had a penalty this time after Walsh was pulled down in the area.  The Laoisman put the ball into the opposite corner and now there was just a point in it, and 30 minutes played.  Macs rallied and a point from Niall Toner looked like it could be enough even after conceding the two late goals.  But, like a boxer who is shaken but still standing after a hard one-two, a third punch put McAnespies on the canvas.  
Donegal had possession and McAnespies funneled back, goal prevention was the name of the game.  The Tir Chonaill men did not panic and held on until the right opening presented itself, and present itself it did.  The right man had the ball too, and from the 14 yard line Keane flashed a shot just inside the post after the gap opened up and left Robbie Croft rooted to the spot in the McAnespies goal.  Donegal up by one and the cheers that carried across the field were in stark contrast to the silence in the main stand.  There had been a few minutes injury time played and there would not be a chance to force extra time.  It was a victory that represented 3 championships for Donegal in 2019 along with the Junior B and Junior A cups.  As captain Jason Noctor said in accepting the cup, it has been a goal of the club for a number of years now, and this year it was finally achieved.  As for all the commentary back in Ireland about the game of gaelic football dying death with defensive tactics and all of that, you'd wonder what they were talking about.  Joe Brolly should take a trip for one of these games, his confidence in the game would surely be completely and totally restored.  Unreal stuff. 

Macs: Robbie Croft, Conor Maunsell, Ronan Murphy, Oisin McConvey, Pierce Laverty, Daniel Guinness, Declan Hughes, Barry Kerr, Anthony Cournane, Tony Brosnan, Evan Cronin, Steven O’Hanlon. 

Donegal:  Hugh Boyle, Jason Noctor, Aidan O’Sullivan, Aaron Deeney, Jack O’Brien, John Bingham, Ray Connellan, Shane Carthy, Sean Donnelly, Mark Bradley, Ciaran Murtagh, Gary Walsh, Barry John Keane.
By Rory O'Donnell

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