Heartbreak for Gowna as late, late strike sends them out

Ulster Club Senior Football Championship quarter-final

Naomh Conaill 2-8

Gowna 1-10

Paul Fitzpatrick at Kingspan Breffni

Donegal kingpins Naomh Conaill advanced to the Ulster Club SFC semi-final in dramatic circumstances as a 63rd minute goal saw them catch Cavan champions Gowna on the finish line.

On the bare face of it, Gowna shouldn’t have had much of a chance here. Cavan’s dismal record in this competition – 12 first-round defeats in the last 13 seasons prior to this – didn’t bode well, nor did Naomh Conaill’s superb record in reaching the last seven Donegal senior finals and winning four of the last five.

And yet, there was a degree of optimism that a talented young Gowna side could be the ones to buck the trend given their superb form in the semi-final and final of the county championship, including a near-record win in the final against Kingscourt Stars.

Naomh Conaill were the better side in the first half but it wasn’t until they nabbed a crucial injury time goal that the scoreboard reflected their superiority. A ball broke in front of the Gowna goals, ‘keeper Ronan Bannon advanced but couldn’t get enough on it and veteran Leo McLoone found the empty net with a perfectly-placed lob.

That score made it 1-5 to 0-4 at the interval. Up to that point, while there wasn’t much between them, the Donegal side were superior, squeezing Gowna’s kick-out and forcing the Breffnimen to live off scraps.

Indeed, while Gowna had one straightforward free converted by Oisin Pierson, their other three first-half points from Ryan Donohoe, Mark McKeever and Conor Casey (mark) were all of a high quality which probably told its own story; the Cavan champions were relying on low percentage strikes to keep them in touch.

Yet in the second half, Gowna turned the game on its head. They held their opponents scoreless for the first 18 minutes and played some clever attacking football themselves; deep into injury time, they led by two points and looked to have done enough to grab what would have been only a second first-round win for a Cavan team in this competition since 2009.

But then, disaster struck for the home side. Naomh Conaill were awarded a free – after a sideline ball for Gowna was thrown up when a player appeared to knock the ball back into the stand – Anthony Thompson lobbed it in and Kevin McGettigan managed to steer it home through a maze of bodies.

It was cruel on Gowna but testament again to Naomh Conaill’s indomitable battling spirit.

Pierson had slotted over the opener after ref Kevin Faloon noticed a foul off the ball but Naomh Conaill, getting early joy off the Gowna restart, were soon level when Odhran Doherty fired over off the left.

Gowna would lead again on two occasions in the first half but only by one as AJ Gallagher and Eunan Doherty registered. A quality effort from Brendan McDyer, after a big catch from McLoone, nudged Naomh Conaill ahead – and then came the goal as the visitors went in four up.

Gowna set about eating into that lead on the restart. A Cian Madden free got them going as they hogged possession and the goal they were seeking arrived when Tiarnan Madden created a break, the impressive Seanie Hartin squared the ball and Conor Brady palmed in at the back post.

Back came Naomh Conaill with a Jeaic Mac Ceallbhuí effort after a patient build-up but Gowna looked to have more in the legs on the run-in. Robbie Fitzpatrick, with a lovely left-footed strike, and McLoone traded scores but when Tiarnan and Conor Madden both landed eye-catching points, Gowna looked the likelier winners.

Lively sub Mark McDevitt forced a turnover which resulted in a converted free by John O’Malley but when Conor Brady and Cian Madden knocked over two more, Gowna were in the driving seat with time almost up.

And then, the sucker punch. Thompson went short to McDevitt, received the return and sent the ball goalwards; Gowna weren’t able to deal with it and wing-back McGettigan made no mistake.

Gowna were in the driving seat with time almost up – but Naomh Conaill have earned their reputation as a very hard team to beat and they proved it again with McGettigan’s decisive late intervention. The Donegal champions march on – just about.

Gowna: R Bannon, F Brady, E Hartin, S Hartin, R McGahern, Conor Madden (0-1), Conor Brady (1-1), T Madden (0-1), R Donohoe (0-1), M McKeever (0-1), R Brady, R Fitzpatrick (0-1), O Pierson (0-1f), Cian Madden (0-2, 1f), C Casey (0-1m)

Subs: D Madden for R Fitzpatrick (temp, 42, reversed 45), D Madden for O Pierson (60)

Naomh Conaill: S McGrath, J Campbell, AJ Gallagher (0-1), U Doherty, K McGettigan (1-0), A Thompson, E O’Donnell, L McLoone (1-1), C Thompson, B McDyer (0-1), O Doherty (0-2), E Doherty (0-1), J MacCeallbhuí (0-1), C McGuinness, J O’Malley (0-1f)

Subs: E Waide for J Campbell (50), M McDevitt for B McDyer (55), Keelan McGill for E Doherty (60)

Ref: K Faloon (Armagh)