Setanta 2-17, Na Magha 3-11
NA MAGHA fell short in their quest for a first ever provincial title as they lost an absorbing Ulster Junior Hurling Championship decider to Setanta in Sean MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey on Sunday afternoon.
The Ballyarnett club found themselves chasing a nine points deficit after a sluggish opening 15 minutes and, despite a spirited comeback right until the death and three expertly taken goals, it just wasn't enough to bring a first Ulster hurling title back to the city for the first time in their 35 year history.
The club has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1982 and while there were reason for optimism and plenty of pride in progressing to a third Ulster final in five years, this latest loss will be particularly hard to take for Robert McKay's troops.
They never fully recovered from that disastrous start as Setanta threatened to steamroll their way to a first Ulster crown of their own. Sixteen minutes it took for the Derry men to register their first score and when Diarmuid Shiels buried the ball in the net six minutes later, it gave the Na Magha support belief.
Alan Grant - who was sent off in stoppage time following a melee involving James Callaghan as both teams ended the game with 14 men - also found the net early in the first half while the inspiration skipper, Deaglan Foley scored an impressive tally of 1-07 as Na Magha refused to let the dream die.
However, if truth be told, despite the concession of some dubious frees in the second half, Na Magha players and management will admit they were the architects of their own downfall as they surrendered that insurmountable early advantage while they registered six wides during a wasteful opening half. And they must now wait yet another year before attempting to bring that elusive Ulster title back to their fantastic Pairc na Magha base.
Credit must go to Setanta, who secured their first provincial junior title, driven to glory by the excellent Kevin Campbell (0-11), Declan Coulter (1-06) and Bernard Lafferty (1-00) - the only three men to register scores on the day for the Donegal team!
Three points separated the teams after four minutes of stoppage time and while both played their part in what was a magnificent advertisement for Ulster hurling, it will come as no consolation to Na Magha who went into the game with real hope of making up for their 2012 and 2014 defeats.
Playing with the strong winter sunshine in their eyes, the Ballyarnett men were struggling to contain the Killygordon outfit from the opening whistle. Na Magha were wasteful from dangerous positions with five wides coming in opening 10 minutes while, in contrast, Setanta were ruthless in front of the posts with full forward, Kevin Campbell in prolific form.
From the third minute Setanta capitalised from a close range free when Foley over-carried and Campbell scored his first of the afternoon to give the Donegal champions an early lead. From then there was no let up from Setanta as Coulter added his first score from play, followed quickly by another Campbell free - this time from the 65 metre line.
When Coulter sent Bernard Lafferty in behind the Na Magha defence with a sublime ball, he made no mistake with a clinical finish into the net to give Setanta a 1-03 lead with just 11 minutes on the clock.
The scores kept coming for Setanta with Campbell adding three more frees to his tally as the Donegal men raced into an ominous nine point advantage.
Na Magha finally got the scoreboard ticking on 16 minutes through Diarmuid Shiels. And that was quickly followed by two unanswered scores - two superb frees from Foley - to give the Derry support something to shout about.
Setanta stopped their Derry opponents in their tracks with three successive scores but then came a big moment in the game for Na Magha 22 minutes into the game.
Breandan Quigley's speculative shot came back off the post and fell kindly to Diarmuid Shiels who found the back of the net as Ma Magha closed the gap.
Na Magha spurned the chance to move to within two points of their opponents on the stroke of half-time as Foley uncharacteristically registered the Derry men's sixth wide of the game.
Regardless, it was an admirable fightback from the Ballyarnett club as they trailed 1-07 to 1-10 at the interval - their Ulster title hopes still very much alive and well!
Setanta came out strongest at the start of the second half and extended their lead through the unwavering right boot of Campbell.
With the talismanic Grant, moved into a full forward position, he reignited hopes as he found the back of the net on the 40th minute but that was quickly cancelled out when the superb Coulter won possession and finished expertly past Daryl Connolly with the scores at 2-07 to 2-13.
Foley and Douban registered from play while Campbell, twice from frees, and Coulter hit back for Setanta.
When the inspirational Foley's effort nestled into the net from 20 yards it brought the scores to 3-10 to 2-17 as the game entered stoppage time and Douban then split the posts from close range to set up a grandstand finish.
However, immediately after that score there was a heated exchange involving Grant and Callaghan deep in Setanta territory which resulted in straight reds cards for both players and Na Magha's fight fizzled out.
Indeed, it was all over for Na Magha despite that spirited comeback as that nine point deficit early in the first half simply gave them too much to do. But once the frustration and disappointment subsides, they can look back with pride and much encouragement at their 2017 campaign.
Setanta: G. McGettigan; B. Tourish ,S. McMenamin, M. Callaghan; S. Anderson, M. Bonner, N. Cleary; R. Kee, D. Cullen; B. Laffferty (1-00), C. Melaugh, M. Kane; J. McBride, D. Coulter (1-06), K. Campbell (0-11, 11f); Replacements: D. Lynton, J. Carlin, S. Flynn, J. McBride, D. McDevitt, C. O'Neill, J. Cronnolly, C. Gallon, A. McConnell, D. Rowan, J. Callaghan, D. Porter, D. Brown.
Na Magha: D. Connolly; A. McBrearty, J. McQuillan, M. Temple; N. McCallion, A. Grant (1-00), M. McShane; B. Glass, D. Shiels (1-02), T. Rankin, B. Quigley, D. Foley (1-07, 6f); A. O'Donnell, R. O'Donnell, B. Douban (0-2); G. O'Mianain, C. Shiels, J. McAdams, C. McGoran, McCloskey, P. McElhinney, C. McCarron, D. O'Rourke, F. McAnaney, D. Luftmann, C. Durey, R. McKay, M. McCarron, F. Hoeritzauer.
Referee - Aiden Ferguson (Fermanagh).