Darren Hughes predicts a 'clinker' of an Ulster club final
By Michael Devlin
The chips were down for Scotstown.
Barry McGoldrick had just put Eoghan Rua three points ahead going into the final five minutes, but they’d missed a glaring goal chance midway through the second half that would have had them home and hosed. Instead they were valiantly hanging on, with a place in the Ulster Senior Club Football Final beckoning.
The Monaghan champions had trailed since half-time at Healy Park, and a gutsy Coleraine outfit, now minus their pivotal midfielder Niall Holly due to injury, were fighting off a late Scotstown rally. Could the men from An Bhoth dig down and pull the game out of the fire?
The response was methodical and devoid of panic, a sign that Scotstown were not a team that would get flustered in the heat of the battle. Rory Beggan sent over an enormous before free Ryan O’Toole and Damien McArdle came up with scores from the back to level up the game. With the last kick of the game, All-Star goalkeeper Beggan once again displayed his unerring reliability with another trademark free kick. Full-time, Coleraine 2-10 Scotstown 1-14.
“We talked about the last ten minutes going in the game, we kicked a couple of wides in that period too, but we got the heat on their kickouts and pushing and pushing,” team captain Darren Hughes told GAA.ie. “In fairness to Ryan and Damien, they probably made their two points look easier than they were. Our last three points were pretty identical, we stretched them wide, pulled it back, and worked it to the man in the right position.
“I think it’s credit to the boys, they didn’t panic, and we gave ourselves the best opportunity to win the game. I think people outside of the white lines were getting more impatient, but we didn’t feel it on the pitch, we weren’t getting frustrated with each other.
“We knew time was on our side, and the great thing in Omagh is having the clock up on the scoreboard, so we knew we had at least five minutes, and that’s a long time in football.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of it before too, but it’s game management. We actually trained it that we’d work the ball and work the ball. People say, ‘what went wrong in the first 25 minutes?’, when the clock is on your side you try different things. You’re probing and boys maybe do something they shouldn’t, you take that shot or chance that 50-yard pass in, but you know when you’re in the last five minutes you have to do the right thing and get the ball to the man in the right position.”
Beggan’s heroics once again outlined his class as a goalkeeper who can have a huge impact on the scoreboard, and Hughes was sure his number one would deliver the goods at the crucial moment.
“The one before it, he got his range with was a slightly more difficult kick to the left, once he nailed that he’d judged the wind. People don’t realise that out on the field it was a big breeze facing him, so once he nailed that one and got a feel for where he was at, I’d no doubt the next one would sail over.”
A key moment in the game was the missed open goal from Gavin McWilliams with fifteen minutes to go. The chance went astray, and Kieran Hughes went down the other end for a point that would uncover the cracks in the Derry champions’ last stand, and give Scotstown the impetus to grab a hold of the game and not let go. Hughes admits that had Eoghan Rua had put that chance away, there would have been no way back.
“Their first goal came from us missing one-on-one, we had our chances too, but if they’d have got that one in the second half, 15 minutes to go, we wouldn’t have won, I’ve no qualms in saying that.
“A team with the quality of Coleraine and their ball retention, we wouldn’t have got a hand on them, they’d have run the clock. They missed it and we went up the field and kicked a point and made it a two-point game. Coleraine never scored in the last 12 minutes of play.”
This is Scotstown’s fifth Ulster campaign in succession, and they reached the final stage in 2012 only to be beaten by Crossmaglen. Last year, a Paddy McBrearty-inspired Kilcar had ten points to spare over the Monaghan men in the quarter-final. Hughes believes the squad is in much better order this time around.
“The biggest thing this year is that we’d had no injuries. Last year Kieran had a broken hand, Conor McCarthy had a foot injury that no-one really knew anything about, but we were manging him through games and he wasn’t training and different things. James Turley, our main man in midfield, we lost him out to Dubai, teaching. We flew him home for the Monaghan final just but didn’t have him for the Ulster club.
“We were fractured last year going in against Kilcar, but it was no excuse for the performance we put in on the day. Kilcar we’re rampant that day and things just weren’t going as well as we’d like. We kept a pretty clean bill of health this year, boys came back from the county pretty fresh. We were keen, and I think that’s what’s standing to us.”
Gaoth Dobhair stand in the way of Scotstown’s bid for their first Ulster title since 1989. Hughes was able to cast an eye over them in their win over Crossmaglen in Omagh, and while their performance that day will give him and his team-mates food for thought, he is certain the Donegal champions will have to well-prepared themselves.
“It was my first time seeing them, but I’m sure the management have their homework done on more games than that. We’ve seen what teams in Donegal have done against them and we know their strengths. But they’ll have their work cut out for them too, they’ll be looking at us too and will have plenty of stuff to come up with to mark our key men.
“There’s plenty of quality throughout the teams, both seem to have an approach of just going and playing, so I think we’re in for a clinker of a final.”