I saw a football match on Sunday. Not Cork V Kerry, something far more important. Naomh Columba’s played Naomh Conall in the first round, second leg of the Donegal County Football Championship.
To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Glen (Naomh Columba) had been trounced at home in the first leg, and playing away this time round, the expectation was they’d get drubbed by a cricket score. The Glen team is aging, the new bucks haven’t quite matured to senior level yet, while the likes of Noel Hegarty and John Joe Doherty are veterans of the 1992 All Ireland team, and the miles are starting to show.
It started off as badly as everyone feared. Naomh Columba had the first chances but sent both wide, then Jim McGuinness opened the scoring in the seventh minute. Kelly levelled it at 0-1 each, but from then on, it was all Naomh Conall.
By the 25th minute, it was 0-5 to 0-1, mostly from McGuinness, and we were wondering if Glen would ever score again, when then keeper took a knock and play was held up for five minutes for treatment. The break allowed us to draw breath, I think. On the restart we got a lucky break, McGuinness sending the ball wide when he should have scored a goal, and wonder of wonders we got a point on the break, in the 31st minute, after 24 minutes without a score.
McGuinness was passing our defence at will though, and he got two more injury time points before the first half ended five minutes into injury time. Half time, 0-7 to 0-2.
Whatever bollocking the boys got at half time seemed to wake them up a bit, and 30 seconds from the restart John Kelly goaled off a pass from Paddy Hegarty.
Glenties were contrary buggers though, and Jim McGuinness pointed twice in the second and third minutes, then a goal and point from Leon Thompson put Naomh Conall 1-10 to 1-2 ahead six minutes into the half.
Jaysus, eight points down, and McGuinness is unstoppable.
The boys started panicking, going for goals. Paddy Hegarty sent the ball wide when he had a safe point, and Pauraic Gillespie’s cross travelled uninterrupted across the goalmouth, with no Glen man able to get a final touch to it.
Then inspiration struck.
Noel Hegarty was switched from Half-back to Centre with Terence Byrne, and John Joe Doherty, who was having problems marking McGuinness, switched with Conal Gavigan, moving from Full-Back to Wing-Half. Hegarty thrived in his new centre-field role, running at the home team, and the Naomh Columba attack coalesced around him while at back the reformed defence nullified the threats posed by the Naomh Conall attack. The thinking on the sideline afterwards is this is Noel’s last year at senior level, and he was damned if he was going to go down in the first round without a fight. Whatever his motivation, he ran at and through Glenties, and the team clicked into gear around him.
The changes had an immediate effect at any rate, and Glen stopped being silly looking for goals and started taking their points. Five of them in a row in fact, to bring themselves to within a goal at 1-10 to 1-7 before Gildea managed a Naomh Conall point from a free…
It didn’t matter. The Glen boys could smell victory. Pauraic Gillespie, Gary Kennedy (twice) and Noel McGinley pointed to bring the teams level.
Two minutes to go, men going hoarse. 1-11 to 1-11.
Noel Hegarty collected a badly cleared loose ball and ran at, through, and around to point. There was five minutes to play including time added for stoppages, and it was heart in mouth time. John Gildea managed a wide, but tight marking and smart tackling prevented any other Glenties shot on target. It ended 1-11 to 1-12.
The playoff will be next Sunday.