Superb ‘Vale storm into first Ulster Final

Faughanvale's Eoin McElhinney tries to get away from Donal Maguire of Templeport' in Enniskillen on Sunday. (Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)
Faughanvale's Eoin McElhinney tries to get away from Donal Maguire of Templeport' in Enniskillen on Sunday. (Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)
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Faughanvale 2-11, Templeport 1-09

Faughanvale’s 2015 fairytale continues after Sunday’s five point Ulster Junior Club Championship semi-final victory over Cavan’s Templeport in Brewster Park left Joe Gray’s team 60 minutes from an historic first provincial crown.

Standing in their way on November 29th will be the formidable form of Monaghan champions, Rockcorry, who defeated Down’s Glasdrumman. It is a big ask but the Greysteel men are yet to be found wanting this season.

There have been plenty of questions since the stark reality of relegation hit home last season but the rejuvenated St. Mary’s have answered every one in style with a Neal Carlin Cup followed by the Division Three league title and, most recently, the Joe Brolly Cup.

The AIB Ulster Junior Championship presented a new question. As a county, Derry hadn’t won a game for eight years and after such a memorable domestic campaign, most wondered if the ‘Vale could change that. It has been another emphatic response.

Goals in either half from the superb Kevin Martin and live-wire forward Eunan Murray provided the platform but don’t begin to tell the story of the semi-final.

Faughanvale player-manager Joe Gray gets up ahead of Donal Maguire of Templeport during Sunday's Ulster Junior Club Championship semi-final in Brewster Park. ( Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)

Faughanvale player-manager Joe Gray gets up ahead of Donal Maguire of Templeport during Sunday's Ulster Junior Club Championship semi-final in Brewster Park. ( Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)

Martin’s seventh minute goal had put ‘Vale 1-01 to 0-1 ahead after Martin McGuinness cancelled out the Templeport opener but it was 1-02 to 0-03 when the semi-final hit a crossroads. A harsh 18th minute black card for St. Mary’s captain Steven King was quickly followed three minutes later by the sight of influential midfielder Michael McLaughlin limping off with a hamstring injury which could yet keep him out of the final.

Two huge players out. In junior football terms, not many team would recover but in came Martin Sweeney and Sean Bradley and the transition was seamless.

Odhran McKinney revelled in a sweeper role from which he was released to devastating effect with 20 minutes left while Michael Sweeney and Gordan Fahey did excellent man marking jobs on Templeport danger men Liam Galligan and Eoin Doonan.

“It was a very pleasing performance because it largely went according to plan which makes it even better,” said a delighted ‘Vale player-manager Joe Gray

Faughanvale's Eunan Murray comes under pressure from Dean Dolan of Templeport in Brewster Park on Sunday. (Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)

Faughanvale's Eunan Murray comes under pressure from Dean Dolan of Templeport in Brewster Park on Sunday. (Picture by Andrew Paton/Presseye.com)

“Templeport were a very good side but we knew they would be before the game started. There were a couple of times that things could have gone the other way. Losing Stephen King, our captain and one of our best players, to what I thought was a harsh black card was far from ideal. Then to see Michael McLaughlin, who has been playing brilliantly, limp off a couple of minutes later well, it shows it could how easily it could have gone against us.

“But the two boys that came in were superb. Martin and Sean were fantastic and the biggest compliment you could give them was that we never missed the two lads at all. That’s the strength of the panel.

“I have been saying to the players all season, football is a funny game and you never know when you will be called on or when things will suddenly offer a chance. Both Marty and Sean have been putting in the hard yards and they took their chance when it came.

“This is not a 15 man game any more which Sunday showed but all season we have been relying on a panel rather than a team. That season has not been about 15 players but 20 or 25 and there is a great spirit within the group.”

A Gray free ensured the Derry men took a 1-03 to 0-3 lead into half-time but the second half saw the Cavan champions go up a gear with Faughanavle forced to dig deep on a very heavy pitch.

Benjamin Kelly grabbed a point for Templeport before Galligan found the ‘Vale net to edge the Cavan side in front but Kevin Martin found an instant reply to tie the game at 1-04 a-piece with 33 minutes on the clock.

Gray and Lassa Morgenroth swapped scores before two Galligan frees, either side of another Martin point, put the Cavan side in front again at 1-07 to 1-06.

Determined not to be outdone by his fellow forward, Murray equalised for ‘Vale with a crucial score before accepting a brilliant pass from his manager to find the Templeport net with the game’s critical score.

The importance of that 47th minute goal cannot be underestimated. If it didn’t break Templeport spirits, Kevin Martin’s follow up point seconds later probably did.

It meant the Cavan side were going to need a goal and with McKinney now off the leash to rampage forward and grabbing two fantastic points ‘Vale always had what looked match winning buffer.

“Templeport were a good side which was what we expected,” added Gray, “They had a young, quick side that looked to get diagonal balls in early to their dangerous front men, especially their two corner-forwards.

“It worked for them from throw in when the scored a point but Michael Sweeney and Gordon Fahey, who went man for man, did a superb marking job on the two forwards. The two lads made it very difficult for them.

“To be fair, Templeport came out in the second half and blitzed us a bit, getting themselves in front but it was very pleasing to see how our players handled that situation.

“I told them it doesn’t matter who is leading in the 10th, 20th, 30th or even the 61st minute; it only matters who’s winning when that whistle sounds and they players deserve a lot of credit for managing the game they way they did.”

The Faughanvale manager admitted it would be ‘touch and go’ whether McLaughlin will recover in time to make the showpiece.

“We are hopeful Michael will make the final and we’ll do everything we can to help him and give him as long as possible. The injury had calmed down a bit on Monday morning but it’s going to be ‘touch and go’.

“We’ll get him all the treatment we can and he will be doing his best to make sure he’s fit for it but we will have to see. He has been fantastic all year and it would be a real shame if he wasn’t ready.”

Gray is not one of the ever increasing breed of ultra professional, ultra demanding GAA managers. He trusts his players to do the work and said everyone - both in the club and wide community - should enjoy the experience of reaching an Ulster final.

“You have to celebrate when you win these type of games, that is the essence of sport, especially team sport. Any team that doesn’t enjoy this type of win is missing out on something.

“Kevin Martin was superb but in fairness to him he has been superb all season. He has been in cracking form and works very hard for the team. Young Eunan was excellent as well and gave us another great threat going forward.

“We got the goals at good times, especially the second which wasn’t far behind theirs and put us back into the lead. Once we got ahead we managed the game very well. We kept the ball when we had to and frustrated Templeport by getting a couple of points on the break.

“We kept Odie (McKinney) in to pick up the loose passes and it worked well but with 20/25 minutes to go we pushed him forward and he was immense. He never stopped running.

“We have a nice blend of players and we tend to compliment each other well. There are five or six of us over 30, then you have Aaron Cassidy at 27 and below that most of the lads are Under 21s which brings that energy and exuberance. Every team needs that experience and there were times when we had to be smart but the blend works well in the team.

“It was a very difficult pitch and I don’t think it suited either team but the boys showed that they can dig in as well as play decent football.

“We had a decent night after the game and will get back to work this week to assess how everyone is before getting back to serious training next week ahead of the final.”

Faughanvale: Daryl Moore; Declan McGuinness, Michael Sweeney, Gordon Fahey; Jordan Curran, Stephen King, Aaron Cassidy; Odhran McKinney (0-2), Michael McLaughlin; Eoin McElhinney, Joe Gray (0-3, 2f), Martin McGuinness (0-1); Kevin Martin (1-03), Ryan King, Eunan Murray (1-02). (Subs) Martin Sweeney for S King (Black Card) 15mins; Sean Bradley for M McLaughlin, 18mins; Michael Devine for K Martin, 58mins.

Templeport (Cavan): Daniel Shannon; Brendan McGoldrick, Sean Dolan, Michael Devine; Lassa Morgenroth (0-02), Oran Duffy, Dillon Raythorne; Martin Ball, Benjamin Kelly (0-2); Liam McAweeney, Ben Kieran (0-01, 1f); Eoin Doonan (0-01), Eoghan Martin, Donal Maguire, Liam Galligan (1-03). (Subs) Kieran McManus for D Raythorne, 37mins.

Referee: Brendan Rice (Down).