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15 Aug 2022

Downings win Division 2 crown in a scarcely believable finish against Malin

With the whole Malin team on the line, Johnny McGroddy smashed home a free-kick with the very last kick of the game to give Downings a dramatic All-County Football League Division 2 title

Downings win Division 2 crown in a scarcely believable finish against Malin

Downing celebrate their All-County Football League Division 2 title. Photos: Geraldine Diver

Johnny McGroddy scored an outrageous goal from a free-kick in injury time at the end of extra-time with the whole Malin team on the line to settle an enthralling All-County Football League Division 2. 

Malin 1-15
Downings 1-16
(After extra-time)

Trailing by two points after a marathon final, referee Shane Toolan told McGroddy this was it and the Downings forward went for broke to smash into the postage stamp top corner. Malin had 15 men on the line and the ball may have clipped a hand or two on the way in. That, after a season of football between 14 clubs, was what it came down to.

For a contest in which the margins were so absolutely tiny, the difference in emotions at the end was huge. Malin, though, couldn’t have done much more. Someone was going to be taking a broken heart home.

Extra-time began with Malin’s 1-9 equating to the 0-12 of Downings. It was a contest that kept every eye in O’Donnell Park glued to it. It wasn’t perfect with both teams going through phases of profitability and then saw spells of squandering.

Christy McLaughlin and McGroddy traded scores to mean a continuation of the parity with the mumble of ‘are there going to be penalties here?’ whisking around a summer’s evening in Letterkenny. 

Still level, Malin, exhausted, made one last charge for the line and Christy and Brendan McLaughlin scored those types of scores that would make you fist-pump. Two up looked huge but if the course of the day was anything to learn from, there was always going to be more.

Of course, Downings found something to kick three in succession then to go from McGroddy and McGettigan made it 0-15 to 1-12 and level again. But Malin, who dropped only three points from 26 available in Division 2, through two more Christy McLaughlin frees, were two in front in injury time. They had nine fingers on the cup. But Downings went home with it.

With both sides having their promotion rubber-stamped in recent weeks having enjoyed fine campaigns, it meant the pressure was off and both sides used the wide open spaces of O’Donnell Park with the silverware offering something tangible for their efforts to date. Lively forward lines and a shared sense of adventure made it compelling from early on.

Christy McLaughlin had a brilliant first quarter - where he scored 1-2 - and the goal was from the top shelf when he took a ball from his sidekick Brendan McLaughlin and got his shot off in a flash, straight as an arrow into the bottom corner.

McLaughlin also added two points, with Josh Conlon having opened the scoring for Michael Byrne’s side as they led 1-3 to 0-2 on 15 minutes. They had, though, lost Gary Farren in the opening stages in worrying circumstances, with the player leaving the field on the stretcher with an Achilles injury to the applause of all.

Downings might’ve lost their opening Division 2 fixture at Connolly Park but having only lost once since - in mid-April at Fanad - knew there was no need to panic and by the 20th minute were 1-3 to 0-3 down before being the better side in the second quarter. McGettigan - a native of Killyclogher, Co Tyrone who is the grandson of Anton McGettigan and grand-nephew of Hugh McClafferty - would kick two first half scores.

Although Conor O’Neill posted for Malin, all the action was at the Town End with Kevin ‘Cookie’ Gallagher’s team hitting five of the last six scores of the half with, typically, Lorcan Connor and McGroddy leading the line. So, from being four down at a stage, Downings were more than happy to go in level 0-7 to 1-4.

Late in the half, Christy McLaughlin ended up on the ground, although despite vociferous calls coming from Malin’s sideline, referee Toolan and his linesman indicated they didn’t see anything. 

Downings kept the forward momentum up in the second half, with Connor weaving his way through to score and then McGroddy put the Seasiders two up, 0-9 to 1-5. Malin needed to halt the slide and Conlon got in for his second point, while, at the other end, Daniel Mullarkey’s save from Connor’s goalbound shot was vital for the Inishowen side, on 37 minutes.

In a contest of ebbs and flows, Terence Doherty and then Brendan McLaughlin scored and Malin had eked themselves back front 1-7 to 0-9, with 42 minutes played, with Downings kicking five wides in succession. 

With Malin defending the scoring zone competently with Damien Harkin sitting in and Dowings trying their luck from awkward positions, Conlon’s close-range free at the other side of the field extended the lead to two, with 13 minutes left.

With the look of a team who were losing their way, Downings, who hadn’t scored in 22 minutes without seeing an umpire’s flag fluttering, then hit two in succession. McGroddy dug out the first of those and then, Allen Pasoma levelled the match at 0-11 to 1-8 with four minutes left. Michael Byrne’s point in the last minute meant Malin led, only for McGroddy to hold his nerve to level and force extra-time - Downings 0-12 Malin 1-9.

Malin: Christy Fildara McLaughlin 1-6, 4f; Josh Conlon 0-3, 1f; Brendan McLaughlin 0-2; Conor O’Neill, Terence Doherty, Michael Byrne, Adam McGonagle 0-1 each.
Downings scorers: Johnny McGroddy 1-7, 1-2f; Lorcan Connor 0-4, 1f; Conor McGettigan 0-3; Allen Pasoma,  0-2

Malin: Daniel Mullarkey; Gary Farren, Ciaran Doherty, John C Doherty; Conor Farren, John Gerard McLaughlin, Paul McLaughlin; Sean Kelly, Daniel Houghton; Josh Conlon, Matthew Byrne, Christy Fildara McLaughlin; Conor O'Neill, Benny Fildara McLaughlin, Damien Harkin. Subs Dara McColgan for G Farren (8), Terence Doherty for Kelly (34), Adam McGonagle for Farren (56), Conor McColgan for O’Neill (60), Joseph Doherty for Conlon (78)

Downings: Aaron McClafferty; Hugo Davis, Ben McNutt, Max Davis; Keelan McGroddy, Kevin Doherty, Conor Boyce; Conor McGettigan, Shane Boyce; Martin McBride, Johnny McGroddy, James Lee McBride; Kyle McFadden, Lorcan Connor, Allen Pasoma. Subs: Danny McBride for McFadden (42), Gary McClafferty for C Boyce (53)

Referee: Shane Toolan (Aodh Ruadh).

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