Donegal thriller at Croke Park
HAVING knocked on the door half a dozen times over the past decade, Donegal finally won an All-Ireland hurling title at Croke Park on Saturday. Donegal came into Saturday’s Lory Meagher Cup final have lost five finals stretching back to 2001, and history ominously threatened to repeat itself with Tyrone coming back from a two point half time deficit to lead by two points with time almost up.
But man-of-the-match Ciaran Matthewson hit the net in the 69th minute, his second goal of the game, and the Donegal defence held firm as Tyrone mounted a couple of last ditch attacks in search of an equaliser that never came.
Matthewson’s contribution to Donegal’s victory was immense, although he modestly paid tribute to the hard working defence afterwards. Donegal trailed by 0-7 to 0-2 midway through the second half before Matthewson popped up with a goal and two points to bring his side right back into it.
Accurate score-taking from
Niall Campbell, and some fine defending from Colm
Breathnach, Ardal McDermott and Joe Boyle, saw Donegal
take a 1-7 to 0-8 lead into the half time break.
The second half saw the lead change hands four times before Matthewson scored the championship winning goal and set off wild celebrations – joy tinged with relief – amongst the Donegal squad and their noisy band of supporters.
Donegal had started the game very sluggishly. They were second to every sliotar in the first quarter and allowed Tyrone to dictate the pace of the game.
Red Hand target man Rory O’Neill looked dangerous every time he got on the ball and two points from him on either side of an Aidan Kelly free had Tyrone 0-3 to 0-1 ahead after nine minutes. Donegal’s point had come when Niall Campbell picked out Mickey McCann with an excellent crossfield ball and the latter pointed.
But it was all Tyrone early on. Damian Maguire and Stephen Donnelly mopped up everything in defence, while up front Rory O’Neill, Gary Fox and Conor Grogan were proving difficult for Donegal to handle. Indeed, keeper Paul O’Brien had to come smartly off his line after a mistake from Shane O’Connor allowed Cathal McErlean in, but the keeper averted the danger.
A long distance free from Niall Campbell brought Donegal back to within a point, but Tyrone assumed complete control and hit four unanswered points between the 12th and 15th minutes to go 0-7 to 0-2 in front.
And O’Neill was again
involved, setting up Gary Fox and Aidan Kelly for points
from play; the other two points being a Kelly free and
one from Conor Grogan after he had dispossessed Jamesie
Shane O’Connor and Paul O’Brien pulled off a double goal line save in the 18th minute and Donegal were desperately in need of some kind of response lest the game run away from them altogether.
When you need a job done, you need a Massey: Ciaran Matthewson, who had switched from wing forward to corner forward, almost single-handedly dragged his team back into the game. The Mac Cumhaill’s youngster found the back of the net on 20 minutes when a long ball in from Paul Sheridan broke off Enda McDermott. Quick as a flash ‘Massey’ was onto it and smashed an unstoppable shot past John Devlin in the Tyrone goals.
It was just the tonic Donegal needed. Justin Kelly hit a free for Tyrone on 22 minutes, but the rest of the half belonged to the men in green and gold.
With Jamesie Donnelly, Ciaran Dowds and Joe Boyle taking charge in defence, and Niall Campbell operating more effectively in the half forward line, Donegal got themselves back into the game.
Matthewson hit two points in 30 seconds to reduce the deficit to a single point. His first, on 24 minutes, came when he pulled down a sideline cut from Niall Campbell and pointed from 13m out.
John Devlin’s subsequent puck out went over the other sideline, and Matthewson repeated the feat, pulling down Jamesie Donnelly’s sideline cut and pointing from 20 metres this time.
Those scores lifted Donegal and Tyrone ended the half on the back foot. Three Niall Campbell scores, a free, a 65 and a point from near the sideline, gave Donegal a 1-7 to 0-8 half time lead.
The second half opened in much the same vein as the first, with Tyrone starting better. But their scoring radar was malfunctioning – they hadn’t hit a single wide in the first half, but struck three within four minutes of the restart and eight in all in the second period.
And Donegal had a let off on 40 minutes when Gary Fox’s shot hit the upright but Aidan Kelly was wide on the rebound when it seemed easier to find the net.
Tyrone finally found their range and drew level by the 43rd minutes through a Justin Kelly free and a point from play from Gary Fox.
Donegal were struggling somewhat, although Niall Campbell won and converted 46th minute free to retake the lead.
With Tyrone tails up, they added points from substitute Peter O’Connor and Conor Grogan to lead 0-12 to 1-8, and from then ’til the end, it was tit-for-tat. The sides would be level a further four times before the full time whistle, and neither side could gain more than a two point advantage.
Niall Campbell converted another free, his sixth score of the day, in the 51st minute and Paul Sheridan, who this time last year was lining out with the now defunct Cavan senior hurlers, split the posts after Enda McDermott had been denied a goal scoring chance.
Donegal took a two point lead, 1-11 to 0-12, when Jamesie Donnelly pulled a sliotar out of the sky in his own square, passed the ball out to Sheridan who in turn found Sean McVeigh (reinstated to Saturday’s starting line up after serving a month’s suspension) and the St Eunan’s teenager sidestepped his marker and pointed from under the Hogan Stand.
Tyrone responded immediately and points from Kelly and a long range shot from Conor Grogan drew the sides level yet again by the 58th minute.
Donegal briefly held the lead when Paul O’Brien caught a short shot under the bar and found McVeigh on the left wing. McVeigh played it into Matthewson who hit his third point of the afternoon.
With the game there to be won, it was Tyrone who showed the greater desire. Gary Fox pointed after winning a diagonal ball sent in by Martin Grogan and two Justin Kelly points, one a free from inside his own 65 the other from play under heavy pressure from Sheridan, pushed them 0-17 to 1-12 ahead by the 65th minute and no doubt sparked visions of the 2009 final that Tyrone won when also finishing strongly.
Donegal went looking for the goal they needed but led by Ryan Winters and Stephen Donnelly, the Tyrone defence repelled several attacks.
And just when Donegal needed it most, along came Massey with a 69th minute goal that stunned Tyrone.
Enda McDermott played a long ball into the right corner forward position for Matthewson to run on to. He won the sliotar, rounded his man and finished across the face of goal and into the bottom corner of Hill 16 net.
But with two minutes of injury time still to be played, Tyrone responded in their time honoured fashion. A dirty pull by Martin Grogan, who had been booked in the first half, on Enda McDermott saw him dismissed to a straight red and valuable seconds were eaten up.
Then, a long Stephen Donnelly free was won high in the air above the parallelogram by Ciaran Dowds and cleared, and captain Colm Breathnach made the last clearance as time ran out and, after five defeats in All-Ireland finals stretching back to 2001, Donegal finally got to savour the sweet scent of success.
Donegal: Paul O’Brien; Shane O’Connor, Colm Breathnach, Ardal McDermott; Jamesie Donnelly, Ciaran Dowds, Joe Boyle; Sean McVeigh (0-1), Paul Sheridan (0-1); Eugene Organ, Stephen Boyle, Ciaran Matthewson (2-3); Mickey McCann (0-1), Enda McDermott, Niall Campbell (0-6, 4f, 1 ’65). Sub: Paddy Hannigan for Organ (46 mins); Lee Henderson for M. McCann (62 mins); Michael McGee for S. Boyle (67 mins).
Tyrone: John Devlin; Ryan M O’Neill, Damien Maguire, Ryan Winters; Sean Paul Begley, Stephen Donnelly, Martin Grogan; Conor Gallagher, Mike O’Gorman (0-1); Gary Fox (0-2), Justin Kelly (0-5, 4f), Aidan Kelly (0-3, 2f); Cathal McErlean, Rory O’Neill (0-2), Conor Grogan (0-3). Subs: Peter O’Connor (0-1) for C. McErlean (half time); Tony Hughes for M. O’Gorman and Mark Winters for A. Kelly (60 mins).
Referee: Fergus Smith (Meath)
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