High drama but Dungiven edge extra-time thriller

Gerard Cleery, Foreglen, forces Martin McCloskey, Dungiven off the ball at Fr McNally Parl. (2111SL26)
Gerard Cleery, Foreglen, forces Martin McCloskey, Dungiven off the ball at Fr McNally Parl. (2111SL26)

In an at times exciting, but always compelling encounter at Banagher’s Fr McNally Park, Dungiven needed extra time before bringing the Harry O’Kane Cup back to St. Canice’s for the second year in a row.

Seamus Mullan was in Fr. McNally Park

Photographs: Stephen Latimer

However the winners were very close to losing this game in an enthralling second half, twice forced to come from behind after conceding goals in the 46th and 56th minute that gave Foreglen two point leads.

Foreglen had first use of a very strong breeze and at times threatened to overwhelm a Dungiven side that struggled to get a foothold in the game.

With Sean Campbell and Darren O’Kane outstanding in the central defensive zones in the opening half, Mark McCormick dominant in the air in the middle third and Niall McFeely linking superbly with his incisive runs and accurate distribution, the Foreglen attack had abundant possession to post a significant tally.

Yet the O’Brien’s were wasteful in front of the posts and three points was a poor return for their possession and pressure, McFeely (2) and the strong running Martin Farrell, from a free their scorers.

But Dungiven showed resilience as they bounced back from that early scoring surge to hit Foreglen with three points in five minutes to tie the scores at 0-03 each ten minutes from half time. Ryan McElhinney pointed a free midway through the half, Sean O’Neill and Donal McGilligan adding a brace of points in quick succession.

Then Niall McFeely cut through the heart of the Dungiven defence like a hot knife through butter and bore down on goal. From the 13m line he blasted the ball towards the top corner of the net but somehow keeper Kevin Farren got a strong hand to the ball to divert it round the post for a ‘45 that Farrell pointed.

Two or three times Foreglen overplayed the ball in the scoring zone and were dispossessed within sight of the posts, Paddy Kelly, Sean Murray and Kevin Johnston all putting in superb tackles to end threatening runs.

Right at the end of the half Ryan McElhinney pointed to cut the lead to 0-05 to 0-04, Dungiven probably the happier of the two sides with the strong wind at their backs in the second period.

Looking back on that first half Kevin Johnston, who had an outstanding game throughout said, “It was difficult playing against that breeze and Foreglen could have been further ahead at half time. We went in just a point down at half-time and knew we could play better in the second half.”

When it was suggested that Niall McFeely had caused problems in the opening half he concurred.

“Yeah, he was causing bother in the first half with his pace and with his delivery of good ball into the forwards. In the second half we got on top of that and it became more difficult for him to make those runs.”

Dungiven took control of the game in the early minutes of the second half, two excellent points from Sean O’Neill putting them ahead for the first time after 34 minutes. When Sean Murray thumped the ball over the bar in the 37th minute from 50m for 0-07 to 0-05 Dungiven looked on course to pull away from Foreglen.

However a combination of some sloppy finishing, carrying the ball into the tackle, poor distribution and tenacious tackling from a compact Foreglen defence that was superbly marshalled by Darren O’Kane, allowed to Foreglen to stay in contention.

And then, after Martin Farrell had cut the lead to 0-07 to 0-06, Dungiven lost possession deep in the Foreglen half and the ball was carried forward. It dropped fortuitously to Eoin Duffy who gladly knocked it to the net for 1-06 to 0-07 in the 45th minute.

However Dungiven came back strongly from that setback and two points from Donal McGilligan tied the scores and a superbly taken point under extreme pressure from Marty McCloskey put Dungiven ahead eight minutes from time.

But there was still time for more drama.

Four minutes remained, Dungiven one point ahead, but, as I suggested to ‘player of the match’ Kevin Johnston, Dungiven made hard work of winning the game.

“Yes, we did,” he agreed, “We were a point up but that goal near the end was a sucker punch. That put us two points down with four minutes to go and we did well to come back and force extra time.”

“After the second goal we were two points down with little time left but yet we still had chances to win the game after we equalised. In the first period of extra time we could have had the game won but we had to keep going to the end. The character and fitness of the team showed in that period.”

Fortuitous Goal

With time running out there seemed no danger of a goal as Martin Farrell cut in from the left and attempted to fist the ball over the bar.

He didn’t connect properly with the ball and the ball headed goalwards at a much lower trajectory. Had the keeper allowed the ball to pass over his head it would have been disallowed! But instinctively he tried to catch it but he failed to do so, the ball brushing against his hands as it headed to the net. It was a legitimate goal. Foreglen were two points ahead with four minutes remaining!

However Dungiven did not panic and, after cutting the lead to the minimum, Ryan McElhinney converted a last minute free to tie the scores. Yet they spurned two easy scoring chances, either side if the equalising point and extra time was needed.

Dungiven had first use of the wind in the opening period but could only manage two points, Johnston and Ryan McElhinney on target. The latter added a point on the restart but Foreglen came to cut the margin to the minimum after three minutes.

However Dungiven were playing with great confidence and control, Foreglen’s cause not helped by injuries to key players Sean Campbell, Martin Farrell and Mark McCormick that upset their composure.

Conor Murphy scored a fine point five minutes from time and Dungiven controlled the game from there to the final whistle.

Dungiven scorers: Ryan McElhinney (0-06, 3f), Sean O’Neill (0-03), Donal McGilligan (0-03, 2f), Sean Murray, Marty McCloskey, Kevin Johnston and Conor Murray 0-01 each

Foreglen scorers: Martin Farrell (1-03, 2f, 1 ‘45’), Eoin Duffy (1-00), Niall McFeely (0-02), Nigel Bradley (0-02, 1f) and James O’Kane (0-01)

Dungiven: Kevin Farren; Martin McCloskey, Paddy Kelly (Captain), Martin Burke; Kevin Johnston, Tomas Brady, Sean O’Kane; Donal McGilligan, Conor Murphy, Sean O’Neill; Ryan McElhinney, Sean Murray, Stephen Kerlin. (Subs) Seamus Kealey for M Burke, 18 mins.

Foreglen: Joe Ashford; Ruairi Duffy, Sean Campbell, Cathal O’Hara; Conrad Sheerin, Darren O’Kane, Kevin O’Neill; Niall McFeely, Mark McCormick, Martin Farrell; Eunan McFeely, Nigel Bradley, Eoin McFeely. (Subs) Sean Morahan for E McFeely, 38 mins; James O’Kane for S Campbell E-T; Eunan McFeely for M Farrell, E-T; Shane Feeney for M McCormick, E-T; Martin Farrell for E Duffy, E-T; Mark McCormick for C Sheerin E-T

Referee: Shane Mullan (Ballinderry)