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Ciaran Thompson, Naomh Conaill, and Cormac Daly, Castlerahan, collide at Kingspan Breffni.
Ciaran Thompson, Naomh Conaill, and Cormac Daly, Castlerahan, collide at Kingspan Breffni.

AIB Ulster Club SFC: Naomh Conaill defeat Castlerahan

AIB Ulster Club SFC Quarter-Final


By Paul Fitzpatrick at Kingspan Brefffni

The good times kept on rolling for newly-crowned Donegal champions Naomh Conaill at a chilly Kingspan Breffni as they held Cavan champions Castlerahan at bay to advance to the Ulster semi-final.

There was a school of thought which suggested that the Breffni side were at a big advantage given Naomh Conaill’s hectic recent schedule but Martin Regan’s charges looked a few levels above their Cavan counterparts here.

Before a crowd of 2,753, Naomh Conaill led from pillar to post.

At half-time, Ciaran Thompson’s 25th minute goal was all that separated the teams as the Donegal champions took a 1-5 to 0-5 lead in with them at the break.

Castlerahan, in their second successive year in the competition, had a three-week break prior to this match and certainly were nowhere near as sharp as Naomh Conaill in the opening quarter.

The Cavan side did not open their account until the 19th minute, by which stages Naomh Conaill had already racked up four points.

Crucially, the Donegal side were also dominant on kick-outs – confident in the fielding abilities of Ciaran Thompson and Leo McLoone in particular, they were happy to bypass Castlerahan’s press on their own kick-outs while they forced Donal Keogan’s men to go long at the other end.

The tone was set early on when Castlerahan – who kicked eight first-half wides – held possession for 80 seconds while not really threatening before being turned over and opened up. That first Naomh Conaill counter resulted in a wide but it served as a warning of what was to come for the Cavanmen.

Brendan McDyer opened the scoring and then turned provider for Kieran Gallagher as Naomh Conaill eased into a two-point lead, which they doubled following further scores from the excellent Ciaran Thompson (45) and Charles McGuinness (a 45-metre free).

Castlerahan finally got off the mark when midfielder Cormac Daly booted over the first of his eye-catching five points from play and 30 seconds later, he set Brian Ennis up for another.

But Naomh Conaill kept up the pressure and a 40-metre point from Anthony Thompson – one of four All-Ireland SFC medallists on the Naomh Conaill side – put three between them before his brother Ciaran landed the crucial score.

He played a one-two with McGuinness (nephew of Jim’s) and tucked away stylishly under goalkeeper Jamie Leahy to put six between them five minutes before the break.

Castlerahan responded well with three points in succession from Stephen Cooney, Karl Cosgrove and Daly but they would spurn three good goal chances in this period too as they went in at the interval three in arrears.

Naomh Conaill owned the next 11 minutes, out-scoring their opponents 0-5 to 0-1 with points from both Thompsons and Jeaic McKelvey, with Daly’s score all Castlerahan could muster in response.

The Cavan champions seemed out of ideas but the introduction of former county player Sean Brady provided a spark entering the final quarter.

Brady kicked a good point to cut the gap to seven and further scores from Ronan Flanagan and the outstanding Cosgrove made it a four-point game approaching the home stretch.

Castlerahan exerted huge pressure in the closing stages, but will rue poor decision-making, typified by Ronan Flanagan’s ill-advised attempt to engineer a goal when a point looked the easy option in the 57th minute.

A Cosgrove free and another from Daly set up a frantic finale but Castlerahan were down to 14 men after sub Gavin Daly picked up a straight red card and Naomh Conaill, composed and calm, showed their quality in picking off the insurance point on the break from the excellent Anthony Thompson deep in injury time.

The Donegal men will now meet Clontibret in the Ulster SFC semi-final.

Scorers for Naomh Conaill: Ciaran Thompson 1-2 (1f, 145), Anthony Thompson 0-3, Charles McGuiness 0-2, Kieran Gallagher, Brendan McDyer, Dermot Molloy, and Jeaic McKelvey 0-1 each.

Scorers for Castlerahan: Cormac Daly 0-4, Karl Cosgrove 0-3 (1f), Brian Ennis, Stephen Cooney, Sean Brady, and Ronan Flanagan 0-1 each.

NAOMH CONAILL: Stephen McGrath, Ultan Doherty, AJ Gallagher, Kevin McGettigan, Ethan O’Donnell, Anthony Thompson (0-3), Eoin Waide, Ciaran Thompson (0-3, 1f, 45), Leo McLoone, Brendan McDyer (0-1), Marty Boyle, Eunan Doherty, Jeaic McKelvey (0-1), Charles McGuinness (0-2, 1f), Kieran Gallagher (0-1).

Subs: Dermot Molloy (0-1) for McGuinness (37 mins), Stephen Molloy for Boyle (43), Nathan Byrne for Ethan O’Donnell (49), John O’Malley for McDyer (52), Hughie Gallagher for Waide (56), Marty Boyle for K Gallagher (60).

CASTLERAHAN: Jamie Leahy, Stephen Cooney, Killian McEnroe, Enda O’Connell, Shane O’Reilly, Oisin Kiernan, Fergal Reilly, Pauric Smith, Cormac Daly, Karl Cosgrove, Brian Ennis, Paul Smith, Oisin O’Connell, Ronan Flanagan, Enda Flanagan.

Subs: Cian Mackey for O’Reilly (32 mins), Gavin Daly for McEnroe (41), Sean Brady (0-1) for Ennis (44), Fergal Flanagan for Pauric Smith (53).

REFEREE: Ciaran Branagan (Down).

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