Search the site >

The famine is over as classy Aodh Ruadh claim IFC title with finishing flourish

Intermediate Football Championship Final
Aodh Ruadh 2-14
Cloich Cheann Fhaola 1-12
26 September 2020
John Hughes reports from O'Donnell Park, Letterkenny

Going into this final Aodh Ruadh would have been second favourites with most pundits. They were facing a Division 1 Cloich Cheann Fhaola side featuring in their second successive final, a side which had already come from behind to the better of them in Father Tierney Park without their talisman, Jason McGee.

However, after previously going into IFC finals against Termon and Glenfin as warm favourites, the switch to underdog status seemed to suit Aodh Ruadh. In the week running up to the final town was decked out like never before. However, it was a relaxed build up which was reflected in the fair degree of freedom the Ballyshannon lads played with in the decider.

Not that they got anything handed to them on a plate in an eerily quiet O'Donnell Park, a phase three coronavirus lockdown seeing this game being played behind closed doors. Cloich Cheann Fhaola, in the words of Aodh Ruadh captain Johnny Gethins, "Never lay down."

The Gaeltacht men led by two points at the first water break, a smashing Paul Sweeney goal propelling them ahead. They still led by a point at half-time and at the secoond water break it was all square. Now it was a case of luck and who wanted it more.

Aodh Ruadh obliged on both counts. Pressing up on the Cloich Cheann Fhaola restart Shane McGrath was able to capitalise on an incredible error by Shaun McClafferty on his kick out. Two quick points then meant Aodh Ruadh were five clear with ten minutes remaining.

Memories of the sides' clash in the group stages were to the fore though. That day Cloich Cheann Fhaola had come back from six points down to win by two. Aodh Ruadh knew there was no way this one was over just yet.

True to form the Blues patiently chipped away at the Ernesider's lead, and a minute into added time the gap was down to just two points.

But two minutes later the Ballyshannon boys could finally start to believe as Cloich Cheann Fhaola had their pocket picked as they were on the attack and Aodh Ruadh broke at speed. David and Cian Dolan bore down on the marrooned McClafferty and Cian rounded him before slipping home a left footed shot to seal the deal for Barry Ward's men.

Nip and tuck

Aodh Ruadh started this game in a surprisingly lively vein. Darren Drummond popped over before Philip Patton closed in on goal before opting to take his point.

Shane McGrath, who was to have one of his finest outings in an Aodh Ruadh jersey, then worked a clever short free kick which ended with Darren Drummond using his not inconsiderable strength to work the opening before powering over.

There were eight minutes gone before Cloich Cheann Fhaola, got off the mark. John Fitzgerald was the man most alert when the ball came back off the Aodh Ruadh upright and tapped over. Shaun Maguire then used the crossfield breeze to good effect as he lofted the ball over from the far sideline. It was all square then on 11 minutes as Martin Maguire showed good technique with a fine score from long range.

Cloich Chean Fhaola then got a shot in the arm when Siobhan Coyle blew for what looked like a soft enough penalty award. Darren McGeever stood up to the kick, but would have been disappointed with his connection as Peter Boyle made an acrobatic save with his boot.

Shane McGrath sent Aodh Ruadh back into the lead with a fine score under heavy pressure. The Ernesiders could then have snatched a goal when a shot cum cross from Michael McKenna landed straight in the hands of David Dolan. Dolan thundered his shot off the junction of post and crossbar, but Philip Patton was available to collect the rebound and divide the uprights.

The lead wasn't to last long though as Cloich Cheann Fhaola raced the ball up the pitch in a raking move which finished with Paul Sweeney sweeping past Peter Boyle. Kieran McGeady rapidly added a point and as the sides halted for a brief water break it was the Division 1 outfit who were leading by two despite Aodh Ruadh's decent start.

Ballyshannon took back into their work with a will and on the resumption a foul on Nathan Boyle as he was breaking dangerously through was converted by Philip Patton.

More direct running, this time by Shane McGrath, was again halted illegally and Patton clipped over from 20 metres to make it all square again on 23 minutes.

Aodh Ruadh then edged in front again, a good flowing move from the kick out ending with Diarmaid McInerney hoisting over a magnificent effort.

Cloich Cheann Fhaola responded by showing once more just how effective they were at creating and picking off quick scores. First Shaun Curran sent over a free before adding a fantastic effort from play to send his side into the half-time huddle leading 1-6 to 0-8.

Well-timed goals

The new half begun with first blood again going to Aodh Ruadh, this time in some style, Nathan Boyle leathering over a stupendous free from 50 metres out. Six minutes in it was advantage Cloich Cheann Fhaola though as Martin Maguire guided over well despite tenacious Ballyshannon tackling.

Jason McGee widened the gap with a free from just outside the D, but the tit for tat nature of exchanges continued with Oisin Rooney putting on a good display of upper body strength before firing over off the left boot.

There then arrived something of a turning point as John Fitzgerald and Sean Taylor both went fully committed for the ball. As the pair clashed it was quickly evident Fitzgerald had come off the worse and was in some pain. There was an extended stoppage for treatment before the attacker was stretchered off. When play resumed Jason McGee missed a reasonably scoreable free, and it looked like the injury had unsettled Cloich Cheann Fhaola somewhat.

David McGurrin was introduced for Diarmaid McInerney and made an instant impact with an unfussy point to bring things level once more.

A heavy challenge on Nathan Boyle saw another period of extended treatment, which Siobhan Coyle used as an opportunity to take the second water break. After 45 minutes of full-blooded football there was nothing separating the sides and it was going to come down to 15 minutes of frenetic football to decide the destination of the McLaughlin Cup.

Not long after the resumption disaster struck for Cloich Cheann Fhaola. Shaun McClafferty will probably wonder how his kick out could have gone so badly wrong for many a year to come, but the upshot was his restart was essentially a pass straight to Shane McGrath. McGrath had an open goal to shoot at, but he was still some way out and fainter hearts would have advanced a few metres to make sure of the shot. Not McGrath though, with full confidence in his technique he flighted the ball into the empty net and the few Ballyshannon people in O'Donnell Park greeted the score with a mix of jubiliation and disbelief.

Darren Drummond then followed up a point before Nathan Boyle stroked over a beauty of a free from 40 metres to put five points between the sides with 49 minutes played. After years of hard luck stories, the promised land seemed to be in touching distance.

Cloich Cheann Fhaola, never took a backward step though, and they steadily worked their way back into the game. A Jason McGee free quickly cut the gap back to four, and then McGee sent over a 45 on 53 minutes to keep his side in the game. That notwithstanding the Blues also hit some poor wides in this period which could have made matters even nervier for Aodh Ruadh in the closing stretch had they been converted.

Two minutes from time Ballyshannon got a much needed relieving score. Peter Boyle picked out brother Nathan with a phenomenal kick out and he laid off to David McGurrin who sent over easy as you like.

Back again came Cloich Cheann Fhaola, a Jason McGee point a minute from time followed two minutes later by a free from Shaun Maguire making it 1-14 to 1-12 in favour of Aodh Ruadh.

With two scores on the spin Cloich Cheann Fhaola scented blood in the water and went hunting for the goal which would snatch the title from Aodh Ruadh's grasp.

However they were undone in their hunt for that goal when a lateral pass was athletically intercepted by Darren Drummond. Drummond just about managed to get the ball off to Michael McKenna who in turn sent David Dolan off and running. Dolan was accompanied by cousin Cian in a two on one against Shaun McClafferty. David drew McClafferty before passing off to Cian who rounded a despairing challenge by the Cloich Cheann Fhaola net-minder before slipping to the back of the net off his left boot.

Siobhan Coyle played a few minutes more, but by now the moutain was too high for Cloich Cheann Fhaola to surmount and as the final whistle sounded, it was to signal Aodh Ruadh's first ever intermediate championship triumph.

Final ecstasy

It was a shame the game had to be played behind closed doors, but the Ballyshannon support in O'Donnell Park did their level best to greet the victory in fitting fashion.

It was a great win for the club, all the sweeter for having been won against such doughty and able opponents. Nathan Boyle was selected as man of the match and was full value for that award. He took some superb scores and Cloich Cheann Fhaola struggle to contain his combative, high energy style of play.

The whole defence excelled themselves and keeping a vaunted Cloich Cheann Fhaola attack to 1-12, 1-8 of that from play was testament to the quality of their effors.

Elsewhere Darren Drummond made a number of telling contributions to the game and, when his semi-final contribution is factored into the equation, he more than played his part in bringing the intermediate title back to Ballyshannon. Meanwhile Shane McGrath was in electric form rising to the occasion when it counted most.

Barry Ward will also be pleased with the impact of his subs, a return of 1-2 neatly matching the final margin between the teams.

A wonderful day for Ballyshannnon football. It is a pity this group of footballers won't get the opportunity to showcase their considerable talents on the provincial stage. However, when we think that it isn't all that long ago when the club was flirting with relegation to Division 4 it is just great to have Aodh Ruadh back in the senior championship, back where we belong.

A thought too for Cloich Cheann Fhaola. Firstly everyone will be hoping John Fitzgerald makes a full and rapid recovery. More broadly, while the club will obviously be bereft at losing a second final in succession, it is clear that their day is coming. They will doubtless already be installed as title favourites for 2021. They can also take some comfort in the fact that they more than played their part in an entertaining, high-quality game which served as a great advertisement for Donegal football.

Vital Statistics
Aodh Ruadh
Peter Boyle; Conor Patton, Sean Taylor, Colm Kelly; Michael McKenna, Eamonn McGrath Eddie Lynch, Cian Dolan; Nathan Boyle (0-2, 1f), Eamonn McGrath; Diarmaid McInerney (0-1), Oisin Rooney (0-1), Philip Patton (0-4, 2f); Johnny Gethins, Darren Drummond (0-3), Shane McGrath (1-1).
Substitutions: David McGurrin (0-2) for Diarmaid McInerney 42 minutes; Cian Dolan (1-0) for Oisin Rooney 62 minutes.
Cloich Cheann Fhaola
Shaun McClafferty; Michael Fitzgerald, Cian McFadden, Noel Sweeney; Ciaran McFadden, Darren McGeever, Shaun Curran (0-2, 1f); Martin Maguire (0-3), Jason McGee (0-3, 2f); Ciaran McGeady (0-1), Mark Harley, Kevin Mulhern; Shaun Maguire (0-2, 1f), Paul Sweeney (1-0), John Fitzgerald (0-1). Substitutions: Conor Coyle for Noel Sweeney HT; Michael McHugh for John Fitzgerald (inj) 42 minutes; Cian Doogan for Kieran McGeady 50 minutes.
Referee: Siobhan Coyle (Gaeil Fhánada).

Last modified: Sunday, 27 September 2020 at 6:19pm