Aidan McAnespies 2-12 Donegal 0-10
Aidan McAnespies bridged an 11 year gap with an eight point victory in the much anticipated senior football final. There was a large crowd on hand in Canton and on a day of finals, and the biggest one did not disappoint. The game was in the balance until the last 15 minutes when McAnespies took control and the lessons of 3 years ago had evidently been learned as they held on tightly until the final whistle. Donegal were well in control until late in the first half when Eoin Gormley took full advantage of an opportunity and his goal was like an oxygen infusion for his team who went in 2 points to the good at half time. The second half saw McAnespies game plan play out to perfection as Donegal could not repeat the late heroics of 2019, and it was an emotional Robert Croft who accepted the cup for his side.
|Aidan McAnespies Celebrate|
The game opened with a brilliant point from Paul Mannion as the teams started to feel their way into the game. McAnespies answered with a free from Robbie Croft after Eoin Gormley drove forward and was fouled. Both players would play a big part in the events to come. The following period, however, saw Donegal control possession as McAnespies dropped back into their own half. Donegal picked off the next 3 points as the ball would find its way to the open man. Jack Doherty converted a great score, and was followed by another from Mannion. Then it was Shane Carthy with another from distance to build a cushion for Donegal as the northerners set up camp in the McAnespies half.
Although their defence did force some turnovers, McAnespies huffed and puffed when in possession. Between Donegal being alert to any danger and covering well to prevent a break, or a way laid pass, they could not manage to get the ball into scoring position in the opening 20 minutes. It looked like Donegal would be able to pick off the points and slowly pull away. Croft converted a second free to keep his side in touch, and with 10 minutes to half time a score came from what was really the first good move from the Macs. Ronan Buckley was the scorer after the side linked up well to move the ball downfield. McAnespies were now putting pressure on the short kickouts and it paid off after a Donegal kickout was penalized for taking too long and the ball was hopped. It fell to Eoin Gormley and the Home Grown player smelled the chance and drove for goal before blasting the ball inside the far post. McAnespies were still guilty of some needless turnovers, however, Donegal did not take advantage on the scoreboard and the sides traded scores, Gormley for McAnespies and a Carthy free for Donegal to make it a 1-4 to 0-5 McAnespies lead at the break.
Games turn on chances missed or taken, and shortly after the restart Donegal had an excellent chance to get the goal back. Jack Doherty found Shane Killoran with a wonderful ball and the Roscommon man’s shot at goal forced a great save from Rory McElroy. Mannion was on hand to clean up and pop it over the bar. Carthy and Darragh Lyne had traded points, and Jamie Brennan picked up a yellow for a foul on Jack O’Brien. Brennan may have been getting frustrated as McAnespies were trying to get him going but he was well marshalled by Donegal’s defence. Croft restored the 2 point lead with a lovely score; the man from the Naomh Barrog club in Dublin would be a key element in the run in to the final whistle.
After Mannion cut the lead to a point with another great strike, it was time to call in the cavalry. Sean Lowery came on for Killoran as Donegal tried to change their fortunes up front and go for it. Peter O’Connell also came on for McAnespies as each side changed things up to try and gain the upper hand. It was advantage to McAnespies as it turned out. Croft pointed a free from distance, a score worthy of a football field at any level, and was followed by a point from Cian Sharkey, who made a lung busting run from wing back, to put McAnespies up by 4. More changes as Keelan Sexton entered for Donegal and Jimmy McMahon for the Macs. McAnespies defended in numbers and Donegal now really needed to make it happen. With their opponents failing to make inroads Macs took full advantage of a turnover. The ball ended up with Rory Brolly having a chance only to lose control, but Brennan was there to pick up the pieces and bury the ball into the back of the net. Seven points up but plenty of time for a trademark Donegal comeback. Would the ghosts of 2019 return to haunt the Macs?
As it happened, McAnespies banished the ghosts and in the final 10 minutes probably played their most committed football of the game. As Donegal searched for goal it was a resolute defence that met the Tir Chonaill men and by hook or by crook, attacks were broken up and forays downfield ended in scores. There was another goal chance that was excellently saved by Boyle from a Brennan shot after the corner forward was clean through following a turnover. Points from Buckley, Croft and another superbly struck placed ball from the Dubliner extended the lead to nine points. With Donegal attacks getting swallowed up surely they day would belong to McAnespies. Lowery had a half chance that was deflected over the bar and also another point came for the Vincent’s man, but the game ended with a score from Corner back, Rob Piggott, who had his work cut out to mark Mannion for the duration and capped off a commendable display with a score. Donegal denied a 4 in a row and after 11 years, it is McAnespies back on top and headed to Chicago for next weekend’s USGAA Finals.
Donegal: Hugh Boyle, Jason Noctor, Ciaran Tobin, Sean Doherty, Jack O’Brien, Caolan McColgan, Shane Carthy, Shane Killoran, Cory Gallagher, Jack Doherty, Ciaran McDevitt, Paul Mannion, James Newell. Subs: Sean Lowery, Keelan Sexton, Cian Connolly, Sean Lambe.
Macs: Rory McElroy, Gavin Nangle, Rob Piggott, Owen Ward, Colm Lennon, Cian Sharkey, Steven Ward, Daragh Lyne, Ronan Buckley, Rory Brolly, Robbie Croft, Eoin Gormley, Jamie Brennan. Subs: Peter O’Connell, Jim McMahon, Tiernan Saul, Ruairi Scott.
By Rory O'Donnell
Photo Aoife Griffin