There were pushed to the last grain of ash by St Eunan’s, but Kevin Campbell’s second goal of the evening, finally, sent champions Setanta into the Donegal SHC final.
Setanta 2-14 St Eunan’s 0-15
by Chris McNulty at O’Donnell Park
St Eunan’s, spurred on by ten points from Conor O’Grady, stayed in touch every inch of the way until Campbell steered home a minute from the end.
Declan Coulter – who posted nine points for the winners – played in Colm Melaugh with a clever pass round the back. Goalkeeper Darragh McBride denied Melaugh’s advances, but the predator Campbell was waiting to steer into the bottom corner.
Campbell’s opening goal had sent Setanta on their way, but St Eunan’s weren’t going to surrender easy on their home turf.
And with O’Grady on song, the Letterkenny men asked the hard questions.
But Setanta showed their champion worth and are back into a final, a year after they reclaimed the Munster Cup and went on to lift the Ulster Junior title for the first time.
Two points from Declan Coulter fired Setanta in front and, after O’Grady levelled with a brace of frees for St Eunan’s, the champions worked the game’s opening goal in the seventh minute.
A long-range Danny Cullen effort careered off an upright and Campbell was on it in a flash to fire into McBride’s net.
County aces Coulter (2) and Davin Flynn had Setanta six up by the 19th minute and the Crossroads team were in danger of pulling away out of the St Eunan’s rearview mirrors.
St Eunan’s reached the final last year for the first time in 15 years and the black and amber weren’t going to give up here without a war. This was a repeat of last year’s decider, which Setanta won by eight points.
O’Grady, Thomas Hartnett and Kevin Kealy landed points to bring St Eunan’s within three.
O’Grady hit two more before the interval to tale his tally for the day to five, but a Cullen wonder score in the final minute of the half had Setanta 1-7 to 0-7 in front at the changeover.
O’Grady popped over two more, including a whopping free from close to the sideline, to keep St Eunan’s firmly in touch and the hosts’ battling qualities were summed up by the tigerish Cormac Finn’s determination to avert a 38th minute goal chance.
Shaun Anderson’s hopeful ball in around the house wasn’t dealt with initially, but Finn rescued the moment, bursting out and winning a free to calm the nerves.
When Finn popped up at the other end to fire over a point 12 minutes form the end, St Eunan’s were within a point.
All the while, though, Coulter was keeping the board ticking for Setanta and his eighth of the day steadied the wobbles, a classy effort from deep on the right channel once more throwing down a gauntlet to the challengers.
Setanta could have had a second goal in the 51st minute and would have only for some brave goalkeeping by McBride. The Eunan’s stopper got out to narrow the angles on Conor Gallen, turning his shot over the bar after he was put clear by Campbell.
O’Grady, from a ’65 and then another free, teed up the big finale, but a brilliant score from Bernard Lafferty, after diligently collecting a loose ball around the middle, arrived right on cue before Campbell bagged the killer goal.
Setanta: Gary McGettigan; Brendan Tourish, Simon McMenamin, Mark Callaghan; Shaun Anderson, Martin Bonner, Justin McBride; Jonny Carlin, Danny Cullen (0-1); Bernard Lafferty (0-2), Declan Coulter (0-9, 4f), Davin Flynn (0-1); Conor Gallen (0-1), Kevin Campbell (2-0), Dean McDevitt. Subs: Conor McGettigan for Tourish (30), Josh McGee for McDevitt (half-time), Colm Melaugh for Gallen (52), Shane Flynn for Melaugh (60).
St Eunan’s: Darragh McBride; Brian McIntyre (0-1), Adrian Gaffey, Conor Parke; Conor Kelly, Sean McVeigh, Ryan Hilferty; Colm Flood, Gearoid Leahy (0-1); Cormac Finn (0-1), Conor O’Donnell, Sean Halvey; Thomas Hartnett (0-1), Conor O’Grady (0-10, 8f, 1 ’65), Kevin Kealy (0-1). Subs: Ciaran Kelly for Leahy (60), Jordan Barr for Hartnett (60).
Referee: Hugo Wallace (Burt).