The lesson of the previous year's final was learned as Kilcar held on to their lead this time around to lift the Donegal U-21A Championship aginst St. Eunan's in Ballybofey on Friday night.
Kilcar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0-13
St. Eunan's . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1-8
Kilcar were worthy winners but it almost felt as if history was repeating itself when St. Eunan's cut the five point lead to the minimum with a goal and a point inside a minute as the game entered the final ten minutes of normal time.
Last year, a late goal from Sean Hume snatched victory for St. Eunan's in the final in Convoy.
But Kilcar responded well and then held on as the Letterkenny men came looking for a second goal to get level in the tense final minutes, needing a good block from 'keeper Michael Cunningham and a goalline clearance from Eoin McHugh in the second minute of added time.
In cold, but perfect conditions, the sides served up a very good first half. Referee Mark Dorrian was prominent early on with plenty of frees, some of them questioned by both sides.
Eoin McHugh was the recipient of the first decision and when the ball was moved on Stephen McBrearty had an easy chance to open the scoring.
A free was moved on at the other end some minutes later and Sean Hume tapped over the equaliser. Aodhan McGinley pushed Kilcar ahead from another free before Niall O'Donnell had the first score from play, availing of a knock-down when a Hume free came up short.
Oisin Carr edged St. Eunan's ahead on 17 minutes when he got on the end of another long range Hume free, but then Kilcadr hit three without reply, Aodhan McGInley punishing frees won by Stephen McBrearty and Eoin McHugh and Stephen McBrearty landing one from long range.
St. Eunan's had a goal chance on 24 minutes when Niall O'Donnell, one-on-one, rounded his man but saw his shot go just over.
Eoin McHugh responded, tearing through the middle to fire over and Matthew McClean added another beauty after good approach work by Stephen McBrearty to stretch the lead to 0-7 to 0-4 five minutes from the break.
Darragh Mulgrew had a second goal chance for St. Eunan's minutes from the break, getting on the end of a crossfield ball, but his effort went over. Indeed the Letterkenny side had an ever better goal chance a minute from the break when substitute David Tyrell, after a great ball from Sean Hume, saw his effort blocked at point blank range by Michael Cunningham.
Stephen McBrearty extended the Kilcar lead from a free and Eoin McHugh added another after great approach work.
Sean Hume hit the target from a 46m free on 41 minutes but Aodhan McGinley from a free and play extended the margin to five, 0-11 to 0-6.
Then came the the St. Eunan's comeback - and it was their minors who were involved. Full-back Darragh McWalters came forward to combine with Niall O'Donnel for Walters to fire low to the net from an angle. When Odhran McGinley steadied himself and hit over, there was just a point between them in the 51st minute.
Eoin McHugh provided the pass for Matthew McClean to edge Kilcar two clear and Conor Doherty added another in the 59th minute. Cormac Cannon had a great chance to add the insurance point but was just off target, and as the game entered added time, there were some anxious moments for the winners.
Referee Mark Dorrian called Stephen McBrearty harshly for overcarrying and St. Eunan's dropped it in high. Ryan McHugh seemed to be fouled coming out, but St. Eunan's got the chance as the ball fell to Oisin Carr, but Michael Cunningham saved and Eoin McHugh completed the clearance.
In the final attack, St. Eunan's won another free but this time David Tyrell went for goal but his effort was always rising and went well over the bar.
The result, in the end, was a fair reflection of the contest with Kilcar the better team. However, St. Eunan's can reflect on four goal chances, albeit the final one, if it had been taken, would have been an injustice.
Kilcar's strength lay in their midfield diamond. Stephen McBrearty, Aodhan McGinley and Eoin McHugh were exceptional; Ryan McHugh, the McCleans and Conor Doherty also putting in great shifts. Andrew McClean was an effective extra man in defence. They have to be thankful, too, to Michael Cunningham, whose saves, in the end, ensured that the Cunningham Cup (in memory of JP and Patrick Cunningham of Glen) was heading back to Towney for the second time in three years.
St. Eunan's suffered in that they had to move some of their players from their natural positions to try to negate the Kilcar strengths, ie, Conor Parke going to midfield instead of his best position in the full-back line.
KILCAR: Michael Cunningham; Eoin O'Donnell, Daniel Lyons, James Shovlin; Cormac Cannon, Ryan McHugh, Jordan Mooney; Aodhan McGinley (0-5,4f), Stephen McBrearty (0-3,2f); Andrew McClean, Matthew McClean (0-2), Conor Doherty (0-1); Chris Doogan, Jason Campbell, Eoin McHugh (0-2). Subs., Neil Sweeney for Mooney 57; Jordan Mooney for J Campbell 61.
ST. EUNAN'S: Matthew Gallagher; Conall O'Boyle, Darragh McWalters (1-0), Conor Parke; Barry McGeehin, Conor O'Donnell, Daire McMonagle; Oisin Carr (0-1), Conor Morrison; Odhran McGinley (0-1), Michael Miller, Jordan O'Dowd; Niall O'Donnell (0-2), Sean Hume (0-2,2f), Darragh Mulgrew (0-1). Subs., David Tyrell (0-1,f) for O'Dowd 29; Kevin Kealy for Hume 47; Brian McIntyre for McMonagle 57; Kevin Meehan for N O'Donnell 62.
After all the controversy of not getting the final played in the week before and after Christmas, it was fitting that the game lived up to its billing. Storms Eva and Frank were partly to blame for competition not being completed in the calendar year, but there was relief on the face of fixtures secretary, Declan Martin, that it had been completed
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