Derry champions St. Canice’s Dungiven suffered a heart-breaking All Ireland semi-final defeat to eventual champions St. Brigid’s from Dublin in the weekeend’s Feile Peil na nOg Finals in Laois.
Based in the town of Portarlington, the local lads enjoyed a comfortable win over the host club in the first of their three games before heading for the spectacular opening parade that snaked its way from O’Moore Park to the the centre of Portlaoise where Derry Feile chairman Patsy Mullan, Derry Feile secretary Brian Smith and National Chairman of Feile Peil na nOg, Michael McGoldrick from Tyrone were among the platform party that welcomed teams from the length and breadth of Ireland, from New York, Delawere, Philadelphia, San Francisco, North and South London, Lancashire, Hertfordshire, Warwickshire, Yorkshire, Gloustershire, Scotland and the Midlands of England.
On Saturday, Dungiven played their second game against local club St. Paul’s and cruised to a second victory before a ‘winner takes all’ meeting with Salthill/Knocknacarra from the Western suburbs of Galway City.
The game ended in a narrow win for the Derry champions but it came at a huge cost after a number of very heavy tackles that went unpunished saw two Dungiven players, Conan Feeney and Niall Smyth, spend several hours in Portlaoise Hospital before returning to Portarlington on crutches. Both missed the semi-final against St. Brigid’s.
With not a single card - yellow or red - shown, the Dungiven club felt obliged to lodge a formal complaint with the Feile Committee about what they perceived as the failure of the referee to protect their players. However the damage had been done and St. Canice’s were unable to repeat their earlier displays as they went down to a terrific Dublin side, St. Brigid’s.
Dungiven, St Canice’s Panel: Eamon McLaughlin, Kevin Quinn, Conor Kelly, Sean McKeever, Ronan Mullan, Odhran McKeever, Niall Smyth, Pauric McNicholl, Stiofan Tracey, Seamus Higgins, Fergal Higgins, Conan Feeney, Seamus McCloskey, John Mullan, Cormac McCartney, Niall McNicholl, Sean Quinn, Fergal O’Kane, Shane McNicholl, Darragh Craig, Eoghan McCloskey, Brandon Mullan, Pearse Brolly, Richard Mullan .
Game 1 - Conan Feeny scored Dungiven’s first point of Feile after two minutes but they struggled for scores in the early minutes, even with a very strong wind at their backs. Eleven minutes in Fergal Higgins scored the first goal which settled the Derry champions as Seamus McCloskey, Cormac McCartney and Seamus Higgins extended the lead to 1-04 to no score after 11 minutes.
With Feeney Dungiven took control and John Mullan made the score 1-05, Stiofan Tracey landing a 50m free. In the 17th minute John Mullan scored the second Dungiven goal and Fergal Higgins the third, as the referee played 20 minutes instead of 15. In the final minute he added a point for a 3-07 to no score half time score.
Within two minutes of the restart Fergal Higgins added two more goals for 5-07 and Dungiven then defended superbly to restrict Potarlington to four points before the final whistle.
Game 2 - Once again Dungiven - against anther Laois side, St. Paul’s - had wind advantage but this time they built a 0-08 to 0-01 interval lead. Fergal Higgins opened with two pointed frees, Cormac McCartney getting the third and fourth points before team captain Pauric McNicholl knocked over the fifth. Two more Higgins frees followed before he grabbed one from play for 0-08 to 0-01 at the interval.
On the restart Higgins scored the only goal of the game to put the outcome beyond doubt at 1-08 to no score.
For the remainder of the game Dungiven used their bench as they planned for the final group game, Fergal Higgins scoring a point either side of scores from Pauric McNicholl and Conan Feeney as they ran out 1-12 to 0-04 winners.
Game 3 - There was little to choose between Salthill and Dungiven in the early minutes until Odhran McKeever saw a speculative shot drop over the keeper’s head to the net in the 9th minute for a goal. The Galway side hit two points but Pauric McNicholl pointed a free to leave Dungiven 1-01 to 0-02 ahead at the end of a half that became more and more physical as it went towards the break.
Salthill pulled back a point from a free but Dungiven then forced two ‘45s before Fergal Higgins scored from play and from a free for 1-03 to 0-03.
However the game was back in the melting pot when Salthill netted for 1-03, the final quarter punctuated by some extremely heavy tackles that brought only frees when red cards could easily have followed.
Still Dungiven kept their composure and discipline as Higgins put them 1-04 to 1-03 ahead, John Mullan adding another point. Salthill pulled one back but Higgins added a brace of points for 1-07 to 1-03 with four minutes remaining.
The referee further incensed the large Dungiven support that had taken over the main stand for the three games when he awarded a very soft penalty which was converted and the margin was back to a point. In a tense final few minutes Higgins eased the pressure with a pointed free, Mullan pointing a late free for a final score of 1-08 to 2-03. After the final whistle Conan Feeney and Niall Smyth both required hospital treatment. The influential duo also missed the semi-final and will now be out of action for several weeks.
All Ireland Semi-Final
Dungiven found themselves faced by Dublin champions St. Brigid’s, coached by for All Ireland medallist Keith Barr. A physically imposing side that defended in numbers and broke at pace they scored three early points from speedy wing forward Tiarnan McGlynn, with Fergal Higgins replying.
Then two defensive errors, under extreme pressure, allowed St. Brigid’s to score goals in the 10th and 13th minutes for 2-04 to 0-01 at half time.
Dungiven did have the ball in the net but the referee disallowed the goal for a ‘square ball’ infringement, even though no such rule is supposed to be applied in Feile!
Try as they did Dungiven could not get back into the game and St. Brigid’s ran out deserving 2-07 to 0-02 winners.