AIB Ulster Junior Hurling Championship
Gort na Móna 1-6 Setanta 1-20
Sunday October 22
Celtic Park, Derry
By Brendan McTaggart
Setanta and the Ulster Championship proved to be a step too far for Gort na Móna as the men from Tír Chonnail crushed the Turf Lodge men’s provincial dreams in Celtic Park. Under the strong autumnal sun in the Maiden City, the Gorts had no answer to a slick Setanta side who were worthy of their 14 point win after the hour.
The Donegal men were more sharp and efficient throughout the pitch but it was their attack that had the Gorts chasing shadows for the majority of the game. Declan Coulter and Kevin Campbell did the majority of the damage on the inside forward line, scoring 1-12 between them but centre half forward Colm Melaugh and Bernard Lafferty also chipped in. Setanta had too many threats all over the pitch for Gort to contend with and were on top from the first whistle to the last.
Gort na Móna showed two changes from the side that edged past Derrynoose in the quarter-final, Thomas McGoran and Sean Doyle replacing Dermott McVeigh and Gareth Armstrong in the Turf Lodge sides forwards.
The organisation and game plan for Setanta was evident from the early stages. Coulter was being used primarily alone on the inside forward line with Campbell never far from his shoulder but it was in their engine room where they held all the aces in the first half. Rich Kee and Danny Cullen in midfield were instrumental with Martin Bonner leading the Setanta defence from centre half.
The Gort defence were being worked over and under huge pressure in the first 30 minutes but they were a match for their counterparts. Once they got to grips with Setanta’s style of hurling they were able to counter but it was their lack of any fluidity or creativity in attack that harmed their chances.
The Donegal men opened the scoring with Coulter and Campbell splitting the posts in the first four minutes but Gort got off and running when they scored the first goal of the match in the sixth minute. A free from Patrick McCaffrey landed short and caused consternation in the Setanta defence. The Donegal men scrambled the ball clear only for referee Colin Murray to be notified that Martin Ward’s flicked effort breached Gary McGettigan’s line. A goal in fortuitous but welcome circumstances for the Turf Lodge men and as midfielder McCaffrey pointed a free three minutes later, everything was going to plan for the Antrim champions.
The Donegal men hit back though and scored eight points unanswered though to reinforce their authority on the game. Lafferty and Melaugh contributing to leave six points between the sides as the semi-final approached half time. Gort were struggling for fluidity and some uncharacteristic missed frees were hampering their chances of gathering any momentum. They did manage the last two points of the half, McCaffrey scoring his second free of the match before Sean Doyle split the posts to reduce the deficit to four points at the interval.
With whatever wind there was blowing in Celtic Park now in their favour, Gort would have been content with the score line at the interval. Their efforts would have worried them as they were outplayed for the majority of the opening 30 minutes, but they knew they were capable of more and needed a strong start to the second half. Martin Ward and Darren Boyd provided the start they required. Points apiece for the Gort duo halved the Setanta advantage and breathe fresh impetus into the Gort challenge but it acted as merely a wobble in the road for the Donegal men.
Three unanswered points, one each for Melaugh, Campbell and Coutler stemmed the Gort challenged once more but it was the 39th minute that proved to be the pivotal moment of the semi-final. Gort na Móna had introduced Gareth Armstrong into the full forward line and he made his presence known straight away, giving the Setanta defence a headache and allowed Boyd the space to get an effort at goal away. Diesel drilled his shot but the sliotar cannoned back off the crossbar with Gary McGettigan beaten in the Setanta goals.
A chance missed for the Turf Lodge men and their dismay was turned to anguish when Setanta made no mistake at the other end. Campbell providing the assist for Coulter who applied a smart finish to beat Connor McCann in the Gort goals. Gort’s luck let them down when they needed it most and it turned a potential two-point deficit into an eight advantage for Setanta and they never looked back.
Five further points for the Donegal senior hurling champs in the space of seven minutes all but ended Gorts hopes of making the provincial decider. They laid siege on the Setanta goals in the closing minutes to get a goal that would reignite their Ulster championship aspirations but the Setanta defence thwarted any and all Gort attacks with a Patrick McCaffrey pointed free all they had to show for their efforts.
Campbell and Melaugh added further gloss to the score line for Setanta to stretch their advantage to 14 points and book a place in the Ulster Junior hurling final against Derry champions Na Magha.
Gort na Móna: Connor McCann; Christopher Devlin; Gavin McKenna; Conor Donnelly; Padraig McHugh; Mark Rea; Gary Doyle; Patrick McCaffrey; Declan Hughes; Sean Doyle; Martin Ward; Thomas McGoran; Thomas McCaffrey; Padraig Fryers; Darren Boyd
Setanta: Gary McGettigan; Brendan Tourish; Simon McMenamin; Mark Callaghan; Sean Anderson; Martin Bonner; Niall Cleary; Richie Kee; Danny Cullen; Bernard Lafferty; Colm Melaugh; Mark Kane; Shane Flynn; Declan Coulter; Kevin Campbell
Gort na Móna: Martin Ward 1-1; Patrick McCaffrey 0-3 (3 frees); Sean Doyle 0-1; Darren Boyd 0-1
Setanta: Declan Coulter 1-6 (4 frees); Kevin Campbell 0-6 (4 frees); Colm Melaugh 0-4; Bernard Lafferty 0-3; Danny Cullen 0-1
Ref: Colin Murray (Co. Down)
PHOTOGRAPHS: Ciaran O’Brochain
Pic by Brendan McTaggart