“Tears of Delight as Harps Hit Winning Note.”
Derrygonnelly Harps 3-6
Lisnaskea Emmetts 1-10
Derrygonnelly Harps have at last emerged from the championship wilderness.
In a drama charged county final played at St Molaise Park, Irvinestown last Sunday, they ended decades of championship failure and frustration to grasp the New York Gold Cup for the first time in their history, when they held off a heart stopping revival by defending holders Lisnaskea Emmetts.
Over the decades, the championship has delivered many memorable occasions. Last Sunday’s final was on a par with the best that has happened in the past. Derrygonnelly, chasing their first triumph, had enjoyed for the first forty minutes the kind of match that was the stuff of fantasy.
Three goals drilled past a shellshocked Lisnaskea defence had catapulted the challengers into an incredible eleven point lead.
If things were as simple and straightforward as this how come they had never won a championship before?
But in an absorbing and nerve jangling final quarter, Derrygonnelly learned just how hard it is to win a county title. They were pinned back in increasingly desperate defence as Lisnaskea took the game by the scruff of the neck and proceeded to demolish that eleven point deficit down to a mere two points.
With excitement rising to a crescendo, Lisnaskea repeatedly charged forward and it seemed that they would charge out the winning score.
It took some astonishing defending, notably by corner back Eoghan Cassidy to hold out the rampant Emmetts, and Derrygonnelly survived.
Winning the championship is the ambition of every club player. Winning the first is especially satisfying. And the feeling of satisfaction and the euphoria that all involved with the Derrygonnelly club are experiencing this week will be all the more intense simply because the prize was almost snatched away from them. Had Derrygonnelly cantered home by eleven points there might even have been a hint of anti climax.
It takes two teams to provide a magical footballing occasion and Lisnaskea, who had been at sea for so long rediscovered their pride and commitment to stage an extraordinary rally that came within a whisker of being triumphant. Derrygonnelly were simply hanging on, but they managed to do so and the fact that they had been stretched to the limit of their ability will simply give them an extra sense of fulfilment.
All round, this was a tremendous team effort from the new champions. A key feature of their play was the support that the player in possession always had near at hand. There were occasions when the short game was over elaborate and unnecessarily fussy, but Derrygonnelly played with precise intelligence, working the ball patiently even in the tightest of positions, both in defence and attack.
It was a style of play that demanded a high level of fitness plus a willingness to keep running off the ball and provide the options. But the qualities were there in abundance and, allied to a burning hunger for success, it made Derrygonnelly a very formidable opposition. It was an opposition that Lisnaskea couldn’t cope with until the end of the third quarter, when they finally roused themselves to produce that electrifying finish.
If Derrygonnelly could do no wrong in the opening half, then Lisnaskea could do little right and in the overall review of their team performance, it would have to be said that far too many of the players contributed minimally to the cause.
Derrygonnelly were keenly aware of the potentially devastating threat posed by Lisnaskea full forward Mark O’Donnell, but they had a strategy planned and over the course of the sixty minutes they did a tremendous policing job.
Of course there were some distinctly uneasy moments, particularly in the closing moments, when Lisnaskea were in almost complete command and it needed some extremely alert defending to keep the fragile lead intact. A second Lisnaskea goal at that late stage would surely have destroyed the Derrygonnelly dream.
Eoghan Cassidy at corner back was to take the ‘man of the match’ award, thanks partially to a couple of crucial interceptions, but the defence as a whole generally played quite well and quite often they had the confidence to adeptly work the ball away. But they certainly had a gruelling examination in that pulsating final quarter.
The Harps dominated the midfield area until the Lisnaskea revival got under way. Sean Flanagan worked extremely hard, doing a lot of sheer hard graft, while Martin Greene contributed three invaluable points from play.
Up front, Paul Greene, carrying a suspect leg, paced himself well, powered his way through for a fine goal and gave steady support all round.
Garry Smyth and Kevin Cassidy were always lively and usually first to the ball, and the forward unit as a collective group, always raided in groups, patient and persistent in their approach work.
For Lisnaskea, it was a case of jolting themselves awake too late. They opened briskly enough but were plunged into disarray by the two goal Harps’ blitz midway through the half. Any thoughts they had of cantering home were dismissed and a third goal conceded shortly after the restart left them with an awesome task.
To their credit, the Emmetts dredged deep in their reservoir of championship tradition, experience and spirit and in doing so they contributed immeasurably to a supercharged finale.
A reshuffle at half-time took a little time to have its effect but they eventually gained supremacy at midfield. The stranglehold was further tightened when their half back line pushed up and an increasingly harassed Derrygonnelly defence was forced into conceding a series of frees. The reliable Shane King, who finished the hour with 1-6 was easily the outstanding figure in this recovery bid. Indeed, Lisnaskea might have burgled the victory but a couple of chances were tossed away as a tiring Derrygonnelly defence failed to close down all the gaps and in the end it was a desperately close run thing.
The contest began in rather subdued fashion, little hint of the suspense that lay ahead. Shane King stroked over an early Lisnaskea point, Derrygonnelly showed initial nervousness when Garry Smyth fluffed a reasonably easy free and Mickey Glynn wided before the challengers were settled with a beautiful point from Martin Greene out on the wing. Lisnaskea were the more assured side at this stage but they still had nothing to show for their attacking, the closest they came to scoring was a determined spurt by Ciaran Woods that ended with a shot that whistled across the Derrygonnelly goalmouth. Derrygonnelly began to feel more comfortable and they combined to create a point from Kevin Cassidy. A poorly struck free looked a bit ominous for them but then came an explosive burst which ignited the match.
Goal number one arrived in the 15th minute. Again there was a positive and patient build up, this time down the left flank and along the endline before the low centre came across and Kevin Cassidy had no problem despatching it to the net.
Even better was to follow for Derrygonnelly two minutes later. This time the foray came straight down the middle and Paul Greene finished it off with a low shot to the bottom corner.
Derrygonnelly were now playing with tremendous confidence and though they were to score just one more point before the interval, Cassidy again the scorer, they were outgunning the Harps in practically every sector.The champions did keep their hopes flickering with two angled Collie Curran frees, but trailing by two points at the break left them with no doubt that radical improvement in all aspects of their play was required if they were going to salvage this match. Lisnaskea instead suffered more trauma as the game restarted. They conceded a free which Martin Greene steered over and were then stunned by a third goal.
A high ball was driven deep into their goal area, it was challenged for, the ball broke down to half forward Martin Hamilton and he lashed the ball home. Four minutes later, the Lisnaskea defence was again unravelled, corner forward Kevin Mc Grath doing the approach work for a Martin Greene point.
There was now an amazing eleven points separating the sides and Derrygonnelly must have been pinching themselves in disbelief.
But the exchanges then took a remarkable transformation with Shane King becoming a major influence around midfield and Derrygonnelly were suddenly scrambling. Brendan Mc Creesh began the Lisnaskea comeback with a point, then came the Shane King penalty goal that raised the distinct possibility of a sensational comeback. Four Shane King points in eight minutes, three from placed kicks, had the attendance entranced. Derrygonnelly were scrambling in defence as Lisnaskea poured through. Four minutes from the end, King landed another free and the margin was down to two points. Lisnaskea kept pressing and if they had notched a goal, they would have surely won, for Derrygonnelly would have been psychologically ravaged.
But the goal didn’t come, though there were at least two occasions when it seemed it surely must.
At last, Derrygonnelly broke out of their own half and they earned relief with a fisted Garry Smyth point that widened the gap to a goal. If they were to be denied now, Lisnaskea would have to score twice, unlikely given the fact that the game was now in added on time.
One last desperate Lisnaskea sortie brought possession to Mark O’Donnell but his shot from some distance out was always rising over Dermot Feely’s crossbar and this Derrygonnelly team had achieved what no Harps team had done before.
Derrygonnelly: Dermot Feely, Colm Carroll, Donal Corrigan, Eoghan Cassidy, Niall Smyth, Paul Mc Grady, Francis Mc Kenna, Sean Flanagan (captain), Martin Greene, Kevin Cassidy, Paul Greene, Martin Hamilton, Garry Smyth, Michael Glynn, Kevin Mc Grath. Subs used: Gabriel Jones, John Mc Govern, plus, Aidy Leonard, Ignatius Mc Gowan, Peter Jones, Martin Corrigan, John Duffy, Donal Gallagher, Ronan Rasdale, Garrett Greene, Dessie Mc Kenzie, Damien Mc Govern.
Lisnaskea: Cormac Mc Adam, John Mc Brien, Pearse Collins, Damien Teague, Keith Swift, Barry King, Brian O’Donnell, Colin Curran, Brian Mc Creesh, Tommy Maguire, Shane King, Keith Reilly, Ciaran Woods, Mark O’Donnell, Eamon Shannon. Subs used: Brendan Mc Creesh, Tony Collins.