Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Senior Football Semi-Final; Donegal v Connemara Gaels

Donegal 3-10 Connemara Gaels 2-12

Cory Gallagher with Matt Sullivan in attendance.
(Photo by Jack Collins)
The last few years Donegal have been the team to beat in Boston, and this year it’s no different.  There was a lot to talk about before and after this titanic semi-final, where the Gaels stood between Donegal and a fourth final appearance on the trot.  The Gaels looked like they had found a winning formula last week with their win over Aidan McAnespies, and stuck with much the same side.  The only difference being defender Callum Holland having to return to Ireland due to a bereavement.  There was plenty of anticipation as to who might be in Donegal’s starting side given recent events in the news, but it would be a strong side whether or not they availed of the services of Ciaran McFaul, who though togged out, was not in the starting lineup.  As it played out, the game was in the hands of the Gaels heading into the final quarter, but after the water break some changes from Donegal turned the tables and sent them into next Sunday’s final and a chance at 4 in a row against Aidan McAnespies.   

It was a sluggish enough opening 30 minutes, with the heat clearly doing a number on both teams and the anticipated fireworks did materialize – they would be saved for the second half.  For the first 10 minutes it was a point each.  Justin Kieran opened the scoring for the Gaels with a nicely taken point from play and a few minutes later a Paul Mannion free had the teams on level terms.  The game went into a lull for most of the opening quarter, with the dead heat draining energy levels, only broken by a Donegal goal.  It was Keelan Sexton who applied the finish to a move that almost broke down. Shane Carthy found himself in possession with the keeper to beat, but held his fire to pass to Sexton who had the net yawning in front of him.  Shane Killoran extended the Donegal lead following a turnover of possession in the Donegal back line, with Donegal keeper Hugh Boyle starting the move.

Each time the Gaels won possession Donegal retreated and had all players behind the ball, and the Gaels threat of the quickness of Kieran at wing forward and James Garrity at corner forward was largely neutralized.  As the Gaels searched for the gaps Donegal patiently waited for the turnovers.  Kieran McDevitt pointed and Mannion and Carthy followed with scores.  Kieran occasionally found openings if the ball was played in quickly, and capitalized with points on two occasions.  The half ended with Garrity and Kieran combining for a score, and Kieran with a pass from Matt Sullivan pointed to make it a one goal Donegal lead at the break, 1-5 to 0-5.

The Gaels turned the tables in the 15 minutes following the restart as the game opened up and maybe a second wind took hold.  Kieran Turbitt was introduced early, and in the middle of the field a ding dong battle between Jack Lynch and Shane Killoran broke mostly in favor of the Gaels home grown player.   The Gaels gained a foothold in the game.  A couple of early Gaels wides signaled what was to come as the next five points broke 4 to one for the Gaels.  A string of scores from Turbitt, Garrity, Turbitt again, and then Kieran, was broken up by an excellent Keelan Sexton point for Donegal – and the teams were level.  The Gaels were on top of the Donegal kickouts and enjoyed plenty of possession.  A Caolan McColgan foray into Gaels territory lifted the pressure off Donegal and ended with Mannion pointing a free.  Then the Gaels edged into a lead for the first time since the opening score.   Kieran produced the leveler, and the go ahead came from a turnover forced by Michael Coyne deep inside the Gaels own half.  The ball made its way to Garrity who put the ball between the posts.

The answer from Donegal came from none other than Mannion.  Donegal had brought on their own fresh legs, and Derryman, Jack Doherty who came on in the middle of the field was having a strong influence on the game, winning plenty of possession and starting Donegal attacks.  With the game in the balance Gaels veteran, Sean Conneely won the ball on the Donegal end line.  Conneely turned his man and from an angle that seemed impossible to score from, put the ball inside the far post with a left footed shot.  The Gaels saw that this might be their day after all, then came the second half water break.

With the game in the balance and the Gaels looking like they might be the ones to proceed to the final, a couple of additional changes from Donegal for the final 10 minutes swung the game decisively.  On came Sean Lowery, and the St. Vincents man played like he had a point to prove with relentless and single minded running.  To the surprise of many in attendance, McFaul was also added to the fray, and when the game restarted the change in fortunes was instantaneous.  McFaul won a couple of early balls and the result was 2 Donegal points, one from Lowery.  Then came a goal from Shane Carthy.  Lowery was involved after he was found in space running at the goal.  The shot went across the face and Carthy was on hand to side foot into the empty net. 

Donegal up by two, and the Gaels were in danger of caving in in the run in to the final whistle.  A Turbitt free brought the lead back to point, and Donegal struck again.  This time Lowery, with a similar run, buried the ball himself on this occasion to the jubilation of the Donegal supporters.  With the clock hitting the 30 minutes the Gaels pulled the goal back.  Once again, Justin Kieran dug deep to win the ball and hit a hopeful one across the Donegal goal into a crowd and Dylan Murtagh got his foot to it to make it a one point game again.  Would there be time for another chance for the Gaels?  Not so as once Donegal broke upfield from the breaking ball off the kickout, the final whistle sounded.  Disappointment for the Gaels, and for Donegal going for 4 in a row with another date with last year’s final opponents, Aidan McAnespies, next Sunday at 5:00.

Gaels:  Sean Fox, Jack Coyne, Ciaran Killeen, Michael Coyne, Barry McCambridge, Colman Mulkerrin, Ryan Caffrey, Jack Lynch, Justin Kieran, Matt Sullivan, Sean Conneely, Mikey Kerr, James Garrity.

Donegal:  Hugh Boyle, Jason Noctor, Ciaran Tobin, Sean Doherty, Jack O’Brien, Caolan McColgan, Shane Carthy, Shane Killoran, Cory Gallagher, Ciaran McDevitt, Keelan Sexton, Paul Mannion, Chris O’Neill.

By Rory O'Donnell

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