Donegal star Doherty geared up for Tyrone test in EirGrid Ulster U-20 final
By Michael Devlin
If Donegal are to overcome reigning EirGrid Ulster U-20 champions Tyrone in this afternoon’s final in Clones, they’ll need their top forward Aaron Doherty on the top of his game.
Luckily for the Tir Chonaill men though, Doherty has been delivering the goods all the way through their campaign leading to today’s showpiece at St Tiernach’s Park.
Donegal’s top scorer in the competition, the Naomh Columba player fired in the crucial goal two minutes from time in their tense 1-11 to 0-12 semi-final win over Down at The Loup last weekend.
The weekend before that he held his nerve from the spot not once but twice, converting penalties both in the match and the resulting shootout as Donegal edged past a hotly-tipped Monaghan side in Ballyshannon.
Today’s opposition Tyrone will be another tricky lock to try and unpick for Doherty, but he doesn’t feel the pressure of carrying the scoring burden for his side. His team-mates, he says, make is job that bit easier.
“I know it will be a tough task for me anyway against Tyrone because they’ll be a tough defense to break down, so I’ll have to be to the top of my game if I want to get a sniff.
“But we have defenders that come up and get scores too so I wouldn’t feel any pressure to get all the scores. The boys are the ones who get the ball to me, they draw the men out and give me the space to tap it over.”
Doherty’s eye for goal, and his penalty expertise, could be put down to his impressive soccer credentials. As a youngster he played for local club St Catherine’s FC, where one Seamus Coleman started out, and plays in the wintertime for Donegal League side Letterbarrow Celtic.
Widely regarded as a rising star in the game, in recent years he has been part of League of Ireland club Finn Harps’ at U-17 and U-19 level, but this season he’s thrown his lot in with GAA.
The Monaghan game was the first time Doherty had ever come across a penalty shootout in a Gaelic football setting, but coming through on the right side of such a tense scenario he says was huge for the morale of the group as they looked towards the semi-final with Down seven days later.
“We knew Monaghan would be very tough. They were favourites to win Ulster and had a lot of quality in their team. A few players training with their senior team. It was a tough game and was a harsh way to lose, but someone had to lose, so we were lucky to get through.
“After that game there was a very good feeling and a great buzz coming into the Down game, we had a lot of confidence coming into that. We knew Down would be very good, very physical, but we played very well in the second half and that got us over the half by two points.”
Such were the extremely harsh weather conditions in last weekend against the Mourne County meant that every score was precious, and as the game ticked on with Down narrowly ahead and Donegal battling against a strong wind, a goal was needed to decide the game.
“I was lucky I was on the end of a good move, the boys up the field worked it up and I was on the 13’ to put it in the net.
“Once we got that goal they went up and got two points straight away, and there four or five minutes still left. They had a difficult free that hit the wrong side of the post and went wide, if it had went over I think it would have been a different story. It was probably a turning point.”
The DIT student emphasised the importance of Donegal making a good start to today’s game, pointing to the game-winning quality Tyrone possess in their forward line.
“If we let Tyrone get away like other teams, they will damage us more and it might be too late to come back, so we want to get a good start and keep that going for the whole game.
“We are going to have to keep tabs on Darragh Canavan and Tiarnan Quinn, they are top class players and probably two of the best in the country at the minute at U-20, so we’ll have to do everything to try and stop them because they will do damage if they get space.
“The two games so far have been very tough, but this will be the toughest. It will be a very hard-fought Ulster title if we can get over the line.”