For long spells of the second half, their supporters watched with their faces covered, but when Matthew Crossan struck gold in the 58th minute, Naomh Colmcille could finally savour the moment.
Naomh Colmcille 2-7 Red Hughs 0-8
Pictures by Joe Boland, North West News Pix
Ryan McKinley’s men are Junior Champions after a nervy, yet gutsy win over Red Hughs, with Crossan’s goal giving them a kick at just the right moment after Red Hughs had fought back.
John Fullerton dispossessed Gerard Melaugh down the stand side and centred for Crossan, who tucked home to, finally, seal the deal.
But it wasn’t before they put their people through the mill.
Ryan McErlean’s goal midway through the first half had given Naomh Colmcille a 1-4 to 0-4 half-time lead and Crossan clipped over a brace to stretch the margin and leave Red Hughs at the foot of a mountain just seven minutes into the second half.
And yet, back they came with a vengeance.
The nerves were whistling in the Letterkenny drizzle as captain Damien Browne (free), Stephen McMenamain (45) and corner-back Melaugh, with a stylish point from an acute angle on the right-hand side, narrowed the margin.
McMenamin, who had been on the fringes of Rory Gallagher’s Donegal squad in recent years, stroked over a free from the ’45 and Red Hughs were within a point.
They could, and should have been level five minutes form time but Browne uncharacteristically sliced a 20-metre free into John Roulstone’s hands.
The flow was stepped when Daniel Clarke fisted over and Crossan’s goal lit the fuse.
Calvin Bradley had a late goal chance for Red Hughs – who had Jonny Carlin shown a straight red card in the closing stages – but it drifted wide and the red and white ribbons could be tied on the Dr McCloskey Cup.
The opening goal arrived in the 15th minute and it was as instinctive as it was incisive.
A Clarke free dropped short and invitingly in around the house and McErlean – magnificent throughout for the winners – rose determinedly to bat past Luke Kelly from close range in a crowded goalmouth.
Beforehand, it had been tit-for-tat in a cagey opening.
Crossan posted the opening point after good work by Michael Lynch just 50 seconds in and Willie Gillespie tied it up after David Gallen and Browne briefly turned the tables.
McErlean was under a high ball, too, to win the free for Gillespie’s score, drawing a foul having forced an error from ‘keeper Kelly.
Naomh Colmcille were in again when Gillespie surged through and the off-load was met by the in-rushing John Fullerton. Kelly thwarted, but McErlean was lurking again and slammed over from 20 metres.
Naomh Colmcille did have a let-off when Browne’s effort deceived John Roulstone, but flew out off the crossbar, much to the relief of the netminder.
Clarke converted a free and Naomh Colmcille led by a goal, 1-4 to 0-4, at the changeover.
Naomh Colmcille were Intermediate finalists just two years ago, but a forgettable 2016 saw them relegated to Division 4 of the League and dropped through the Championship’s trapdoor to the Junior grade.
McKinley assumed control this year at Pairc Colmcille and they managed to pick the pieces up for a promotion tilt that fell just shot and a return to a final they’d won seven years ago, when they defeated Naomh Padraig, Muff in a replay.
That win ended their own barren wait, of 16 years, since 1994, for Junior glory and put them on the road to recover from a period in the doldrums.
The road looked paved here for an easier-than-they-thought success, but Red Hughs hit back with that four-in-a-row salvo and the hopes heightened, but their long, agonising wait continues.
It is now 36 years since Marty Carlin boomed over ten points to defeat Kilcar in the Junior final of 1981.
Red Hughs have had to endure two senior final losses and a pair of intermediate final defeats before this, their latest heartache.
Naomh Colmcille, led by McErlean, Crossan, Clarke, Fullerton, Michael Lynch and the energy-sapping Oran Hilley, shook their heads clear down the home straight for a memorable win.
Naomh Colmcille: John Roulstone; Paul Friel, Alex Devenney, Ricky Hegarty; Kevin Gallagher, Ciaran Devine, Gerard Curran; Michael Lynch, Daniel Clarke (0-2, 1f); John Fullerton, Ryan McErlean (1-1), Oran Hilley; Matthew Crossan (1-3), Willie Gillespie (0-1, 1f), William Lynch. Subs: Michael Friel for Devine (25), Don Hegarty for Curran (41), Devine for Gillespie (55), Eddie Gillespie for Fullerton (60), Conor Grant for Crossan (60)
Red Hughs: Luke Kelly; Pauric McMenamin, Michael Devine, Gerard Melaugh (0-1); Ryan Kelly, Stephen McMenamin (0-2, 1f, 1 ’45), Eugene Browne; Peadar McGlinchey, Damien Browne (0-3, 1f); Colm Melaugh, Calvin Bradley (0-1), Ricky Gallen; Odhran Doherty, Jonathan Carlin, David Gallen (0-1). Sub: Karol Gallen for Devine (49).
Referee: Connie Doherty (Naomh Conaill).Tags: