Steelstown 0-13, Cloughaneely 1-08
Steelstown will meet Monaghan's Donaghmoyne in the Ulster Intermediate Club Championship Quarter-final after making hard work of a two point preliminary round victory over Donegal champions, Cloughaneely in O'Donnell Park, Letterkenny on Saturday.
Hugh McGrath's men were forced to withstand a late charge and a fisted effort against their bar by the Falcarragh men who, by that stage, had been reduced to 13 players following second half red cards for John Fitzgerald and Paul Sweeney.
The victory was little more than Steelstown deserved though. In general play the Derry side were a level above the Donegal men but nerves were evident alongside a reluctance to run at defenders which had caused Cloughaneely bother every time it happened. Too much of the Brian Ogs play was slow, often recycling for the sake of recycling when more progressive passing may have opened up the opposition.
Indeed, every time, the likes of Neil Forester or Donncha Gilmore broke forward it had Cloughaneely in trouble but the Donegal side, who have been playing senior football for a number of years, were a tough nut to crack and hung in long enough to see Steelstown nerves start to shake with the finishing line in sight.
In the end, the cross bar came to Steelstown's rescue, Ciaran McFadden's floated free meeting a plethora of bodies, one of which directed to against the woodwork. Thankfully when it dropped it fund a Steelstown hand and the game was won but it should never have been that close.
McGrath made two changes from the side that started the Derry county final against Greenlough, one enforced and one tactical as the injured Marty Dunne was replaced at No. 1 by Eoghan Heraghty while Kevin Lindsay's quicker than expected recovery from injury saw him restored and Morgan Murray drop to the bench.
And it was the Derry side that bossed the opening half, dominating the ball but unable to translate it into an interval lead against a Cloughaneely 15 who were much more efficient with what ball they managed to win. Donegal county man, Jason McGee was central to everything they did in a deep lying formation designed to win turnovers inside their own 45 and spring forward to an inside front two of Paul Sweeney and Blake McGarvey.
Lindsay's return freed Brian Og's captain Forester from the defensive role he occupied in the county final and the former Derry player's ability to break defensive lines paid dividends from the first whistle. with two early points, matched by McGee efforts, as the sides remained locked at 0-2 apiece after six minutes.
When Eoghan Braldey and Ben McCarron (free) eased Steelstown into a 0-4 to 0-2 lead it looked as if they were finally finding their range but Cloughaneely's reputation for determination and a refusal to lie down was already evident as they pegged the city men back to 0-5 to 0-4 on 22 minutes.
It got even better for them second later when Fitzgerald picked out McGee wide on the right. The Donegal player was shooting for a point but as it drifted wide, full forward Paul Sweeney was alert enough to break it down, step inside and fire low past Heraghty for the game's only goal.
If Steelstown were shaken they didn't show it, even if a yellow card for Oran Fox necessitated an earlier than expected substitution with Rory Maguire replacing him and Forester dropped into the sweeper role. It wasn't planned but it paid dividends as three times Steelstown ran at the Cloughaneely and three times they were fouled, allowing McCarron to tie the game up at half-time on a score of 0-8 to 1-05.
The second half followed a similar patter to the first, Forester and Gilmore bossing the game for the visitors who continued with patience rather than pace. It allowed Cloughaneely to remain in a game they should have been out of despite Fitzgerald's early score getting the score board ticking once more.
That was cancelled out by a huge McCarron score from around 50m but an indication of the possession statistics can be seen by Cloughaneely's first wide of the game arriving on 42 minutes. Indeed their 1-05 in the first half had come from only seven shots.
That free was courtesy of McGee who looked to be pushed as he shot but Paul Sweeney's made his feelings a little too clear to referee Conor Dourneen and the yellow card he received for dissent would later come back to haunt him.
By that stage team-mate Fitzgerald departed on a red on 46 minutes after what looked a closed fist tackle on Steelstown's Jason McAleer. It seemed harsh but the numerical advantage allowed Steelstown to build a match winning lead.
A lovely Gareth Logue point was followed by scores from Bradley and a huge effort from substitute Mickey McKinney with what was almost his first tough. It nearly took the roof off O'Donnell Park as it cleared the bar and maybe the Brian Ogs were guilty of thinking the match was won with five minutes left.
It wasn't and with McGee, who earlier missed an easy free to bring Steelstown back to one point, this time reduced the deficit to two with another free Steelstown were somehow hanging on. They did courtesy of the crossbar and fully deserved to but lessons will be learned from this one.
There were patches of superb play from Steelstown but Championship football is about making it count. Steelstown eventually did. But only just.
Steelstown scorers: Ben McCarron (0-5, 4f), Neil Forester (0-2), Eoghan Bradley (0-2), Ryan Devine (0-1, 1 '45'), Cahir McMonagle (0-1, 1f), Gareth Logue (0-1), Mickey McKinney (0-1)
Cloughaneely scorers: Jason McGee (0-4, 2f), Paul Sweeney (1-1), Conor Coyle (0-1, 1f), Blake McGarvey (0-2, 1f),
Steelstown Brian Ogs: Eoghan Heraghty, Oran Fox, Kevin Lindsay, Diarmuid Baker, Donncha Gilmore, Jason McAleer, Eoghan Concannon, Oran Menamin, Ryan Devine, Gareth Logue, Neil Forester, Ben McCarron, Cahir McMonagle, Eoghan Bradley. (Subs) Rory Maguire for O Fox, 26mins; Morgan Murray for M Foley, 36mins; Shane O'Connor for R Devine, 48mins; Mickey McKinney for G Logue, 55mins;
Yellow Cards: M Foley, 20mins; O Fox, 21mins; R Devine, 32mins; N Forester, 63mins;
Black Card: B McCarron, 60mins;
Cloughaneely: Shaun McClafferty, Noel Sweeney, Cian McFadden, Michael Fitzgerald, Ciaran McFadden, Lee O'Brien, Ciaran McGeady, Jason McGee, Darren McGeever, Cillian Gallagher, Mark Harley, Conor Coyle, Blake McGarvey, Paul Sweeney, John Fitzgerald. (Subs) Martin Maguire for C Gallagher, 48mins; Darren Ferry for C Coyle, 53mins;
Yellow Cards: C Coyle, 23mins; P Sweeney, 42mins & 54mins.
Red Cards: J Fitzgerald, 47mins; P Sweeney, 54mins
Referee: Conor Dourneen (Cavan)