The first cup is the sweetest-and to quote W B Yeats when these young hurling heroes from St Eunan’s Letterkenny are “old and grey and full of sleep, they will remember this golden day of autumn with great pride.”
By Gerry McLaughlin
They won their first county senior hurling championship since 1972 and they were full value for it against a brave and unbowed Setanta side who had a poor start but rallied well to give us a magnificent finish.
But this was extra special for youthful Eunan’s as they had supped sorrow from the rusty spoon of defeat from the Finn Valley men in 2019 and 2020.
St Eunan’s 2-9 Setanta 0-14
The last time they won the hurling and football county title double was back in 1972, so could this be an omen?
And they got the crucial goals when they needed them and that essentially was the difference between the sides.
Russell Forde got on the end a great move to crack the sliotar to the net in the 8th minute to put them into a 1-3 to 0-0 lead.
That was the crucial cushion that they needed and so it proved.
But, just when Setanta’s ace marksman Declan Coulter seemed to have reeled them in again in the second half, the lively Letterkenny lads struck for another killer goal in the 44th minute when dual star Kevin Kealy confidently finished to the net after great-hearted work from the lion-hearted Brian McIntyre, the “Tommy Walsh” of St Eunan’s.
Kealy’s cool strike pushed the winners into a 2-8 to 0-8 lead.
And even though they could only hit one more point from Daire O’Maoileidigh, they managed to
hang on to just about to survive the expected late Setant surge.
Setanta had two great chances of goals in either half, when the blinding pace of Ruari Campbell put him one on one with Eunan’s keeper Cian Hennessy at angle.
But, twice, Hennessy brilliantly denied the talented Cross youngster and those saves were crucial.
Both sides were guilty of poor shooting in front of the posts with Setanta hitting a tally of eight to Eunan;s seven.
Eunan’s were excellently set up in the first half with another dual star Sean McVeigh dropping back and the Setanta forwards were repeatedly smothered in possession.
That change in the second half as Setanta pushed up and battled as only they can for victory.
They came mighty close, but the best team clearly won on the day.
Eunan’s started brightly and Ryan Hilferty swung over a great point from the wing to set the tone as early as the second minute.
Their defence looked very composed with team captain Conor O’Grady dropping back and snuffing out Setanta’s long balls.
Marksman Daire O’Maoileidigh, pointed after Kealy was fouled as Setanta’s Kevin Campbell hit a wide at the other end.
O’Maoileidigh then struck a brilliant point from play as the crowd were already wondering if a shock was imminent.
It got even better for Eunan’s in the 8th minute with Forde’s well finished goal after great work by Colm Flood.
Suddenly, they were six points clear and the usually deadly accurate Coulter was strangely off target.
It took them 13 minutes to get off the mark when midfielder Conor McGettigan fed Gerard Gilmore who struck a smart point.
Eunan’s had loads of chances but posted six wides in the opening 20 minutes as Setanta gradually fought their way back into contention.
Two pointed frees from Coulter left the score at St Eunan’s 1-5 to 0-3 by the 26h minute with O’Maoileidigh on target for the winners.
Another Coulter free left it 1-5 to 0-4 before Eunan’s team captain Conor O’Grady struck a fine point for the winners.
The winners were well worth their 1-6 to 0-5 half time lead, but they can thank a great save from keeper Hennessy from a Campbell point blank rasper in the 28th minute for keeping matters that way.
The big question on the resumption, was would Eunan’s be able to hold out against the inevitable Setant riposte.
Campbell was almost in for a goal again on the turnover but his rocket from an angle was once again saved by the excellent Hennessy.
Barney Lafferty of Setanta and O”Maoileidigh swapped points and it was 1-8 to 0-8 in a cagey third quarter before Eunan’s struck for the crucial killer goal.
Brian McIntyre went on a surging run up the wing and the ball was then transferred to Conor O’Grady who picked out Kealy inside the Setanta defence and he showed ice in the veins as he found the net.
The roar that greeted this goal could almost be heard in Ballybofey.
It was the moment that Eunan’s and their large following saw that victory was in their own hands.
And even though they could only score one more point, it was enough to seal a memorable victory
St Eunan’s: Cian Hennessy; Sean Halvey, Conor McVeigh, Nigel Flood; Colm Flood, Steven Doherty, Brian McIntyre; Sean McVeigh, Ryan Hilferty (0-1) Conor O’Grady (0-1) Kevin Kealy (1-0) Russell Forde (1-0); Cormac Finn, Daire O’Maoileidigh (0-6f) Matt Ahern (0-1).Subs; Paul O’Donnell for Forde (47), Oisin Randles for Ahern (62)
Setanta: Ciaran Bellew; Denim Rowan, Michael Donoghue, Mark Callaghan (0-1); Shane Gallen, Danny Cullen, Niall Cleary (0-1); Conor McGettigan, Ritchie Kee; Kevin Campbell, Declan Coulter (0-10f) Gerard Gilmore (0-2); Barney Lafferty (0-1), Oisin Marley, Ruairi Campbell. Subs; Davin Flynn for McGettigan (23), Brendan Tourish for Campbell (38), Dean Harvey for Kee (59),
Referee: Aidan McAleer (Muff)