Ardara's Brendan Boyle (11) stretches for possession as Padhraic Patton challenges for MacCumhaills during Sunday evening's game in Ballybofey
A busy opening weekend of Senior Championship action in Donegal drew to a conclusion at MacCumhaill Park on Sunday evening as MacCumhaills just about saw off the challenge of Ardara in an exciting encounter that was in the melting pot right to the finish.
MacCumhaills . . . .1-10
Ardara . . . .1-9
MacCumhaills, who led for almost the entire contest, always looked to have more about them. And leading by four points going into the closing stages, they looked well in control.
But trailing by 1-10 to 1-6, Ardara staged a brilliant late fight-back, scoring three late points to get back to within just a point.
With the last kick of the game, Stefan Boyle had a chance to knock over the equalising score. But from a free just inside the ‘45, his effort sailed wide of the posts and so ended Ardara’s chances of sneaking a draw.
In fairness, MacCumhaills deserved the win. Oisin Gallen will earn the plaudits for a fine performance - he scored 1-4 of the home team’s total.
But there were good displays elsewhere in the team with Gavin Gallagher excellent at centre half-back and Luke Gavigan, Aaron Kelly and Jamie Keegan also impressing.
Their system of getting most men back behind the ball when not in possession meant the game often became ponderous as Ardara did their best to draw their opponents out.
But credit to the visitors, they kicked some fine points of their own which ensured they were able to keep in touch throughout.
Three points down going into the final few minutes, they certainly weren’t out of it. And when they managed to get the lead down to just a single point, they seemed to have the momentum to go on and score again.
But Stefan Boyle, who scored four points in this game, was unable to find the range with that late, difficult free, much to the relief of MacCumhaills.
The visitors may have raised the first flag of the evening after a Stefan Boyle free from the hands inside a minute, but MacCumhaills looked the better side for much of the first half.
Indeed by the 12th minute, they had kicked 1-4 without reply, delivering a couple of wonderful scores in a blistering spell.
Their ploy of getting men forward from defence to support in attack worked a treat and Martin Gallagher and Gavin Gallagher were both among their scorers.
Oisin Gallen, who was picked up for much of the half by Paddy McGrath, was also causing problems and while he kicked 1-3 in the first half, his link-up play and intelligence on the ball was also hugely impressive.
His goal came from a penalty on 12 minutes after Matthew Sweeney fouled Jamie Keegan just as the MacCumhaills man was winding up to shoot on goal.
Strangely the water-break in the first half seemed to come at a good time for Ardara. And almost immediately after the restart, they struck for a goal. A high dropping ball was palmed down into the path of John Ross Molloy and the midfielder showed great composure, taking possession and firing low past keeper Eoin Gallen.
Oisin Gallen responded at the other end with a score from way out on the right to open up a four point advantage. But Ardara finished the half well and by the break they had reduced the margin to just two, 1-6 to 1-4, with a free from Stefan Boyle and two excellent scores from Declan Gavigan and Johnny McHugh.
Luke Gavigan got up to get on the scoresheet right at the start of the second half and MacCumhaills’ lead was back out to three.
But Ardara, through Gareth Concarr and Johnny McHugh, got back to within a point nine minutes in.
MacCumhaills dug deep again and three unanswered scores from Aaron Kelly, Oisin Gallen and Chad McSorley put them 1-10 to 1-6 in front and in a strong position as the game entered the final stages.
Ardara, it seemed, needed a goal. They ran their bench and roared on by the visiting supporters, they gave themselves real hope when Stefan Boyle kicked two quick points, one from a free and one from play, to get it back to two. Boyle incidentally was one of two players black-carded. He was sent to the line during the first half while MacCumhaills defender Christopher Gallagher was sin-binned late on.
As the game entered injury time, Lorcan O’Donnell set up a grandstand finish when he reduced the lead to the minimum with a brilliant point, lofted over from wide on the stand-side.
Despite their best efforts, they couldn’t find an equaliser and they must now lift themselves for next weekend’s eagerly awaited visit of champions Naomh Conaill which is guaranteed to draw plenty of interest next Sunday afternoon.
For MacCumhaills, the victory is the perfect result as they go to Dungloe, also next Sunday afternoon.
MacCumhaills: Eoin Gallen; Christopher Gallagher, Ronan McMenamin, Martin Gallagher (0-1), Luke Gavigan (0-1), Gavin Gallagher (0-1), Aaron Kelly (0-1); Nathan Gavigan, Padhraic Patton (0-1, 1m); Rory Mulligan, Jamie Keegan, Gary Wilson; Marty O'Reilly, Oisin Gallen (1-4, 1-0 pen, 1f), Chad McSorley (0-1). Subs: Conor Griffin for Mulligan (60).
Ardara: Matthew McGlynn; Joe Melly, Declan Gavigan (0-1), Matthew Sweeney; Ryan Malley, Paddy McGrath, Johnny McHugh (0-2); John Ross Molloy (1-0), Brian Whyte; Kevin Whyte, Brendan Boyle, Jack Brennan; Lorcan O'Donnell, Stefan Boyle (0-4, 3f), Gareth Concarr (0-1, 1f). Subs: Callum Malley and Robbie Adair for Concarr and Boyle (43), Johnny Sweeney for Brennan (46).
Referee: Shane Toolan (Aodh Ruadh).
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