Gaoth Dobhair and Lavey do battle for U21 glory


Erin’s Own Lavey, one game away from Paddy McLarnon glory

Bank of Ireland U21 Club Football Tournament

Paddy McLarnon Cup Final

Erin’s Own, Lavey (Derry) v Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal)

Sunday February 14 @ 2pm

Brendan McTaggart

One last hurdle and 60 minutes.  That’s all that stands between Erin’s Own Lavey and Gaoth Dobhair on Sunday afternoon to achieve their ultimate goal.  A journey that started in south Derry and northern Donegal in October, ends in Pairc Kickham’s at 2pm as these two sides face-off to see who will become Bank of Ireland Paddy McLarnon Cup champions for 2018.

Both sides have earned the right to play for the honours during the competition with outstanding performances against the best the rest of Ulster could give.  For Lavey, they have defied the odds and the experts.  In their first foray into the U21 provincial competition, the Derry champions have gone from strength to strength.  By their own admission, they are and have been since their quarter-final match against Galbally, in bonus territory.  A year ahead of schedule.  They had no major expectations of coming through a county that has yielded that last three winners of the U21 tournament, yet they find themselves in the final.  A testament to the belief within their young squad and how easy momentum is to carry.  After an uncertain start against Tyrone champions Galbally, the Gulladuff side have navigated their way to the final playing a brand of attacking and exciting football.  Their performance against a Southern Gaels side that accounted for Crossmaglen in the quarter-finals was hugely impressive in the polished manner in which they despatched the opposition.  Despite another slow start and numerous goal chances missed, 15 minutes into the second half they could take their foot off the gas and have one eye on the final.


Donegal champions, Gaoth Dobhair have been impressive on the journey to Sunday’s final.

Before a ball was kicked in the tournament, Oakleaf legend and team manager Seamus Downey told us that his sides biggest strength is their work rate as a team.  That much has shone in their two outings at Creggan but they have unearthed stars for the future.  Thomas Donnelly has managed 2-11 in his two matches so far and along with Gaoth Dobhair’s Gavin McBride and is one of the fore-runners to be named as the tournaments top scorer.  Eamon McGill’s displays from centre half have been instrumental in his sides charge to the final while team captain Brendan Laverty’s all action performances in the middle of the park have been key.  Such has been there performances in reaching Sunday’s decider, it’s difficult to leave any of their regular team out.  From goal keeper Eoin Mulholland making an outrageous double save when the match against Galbally was in the melting pot to watching the Toner’s making another lung busting run out of defence or the grace to which Shea Downey lords the pitch, there is a lot to like about the way Seamus Downey’s side play their football.  Attacking threats all over the pitch while they have a defence who don’t yield scores easily.

Gaoth Dobhair will come into Sunday’s final as favourites and rightly so.  They dismantled the challenge of Rossa in the opening round before seeing off Monaghan champions Donaghmoyne in style.  Their last outing at Pairc Kickham’s gave us a different side to Tom ‘Beag’ Mac Giolla Easpuig’s side.  A side where they had to grind out the victory despite having the odds heavily in their favour.  They were tipped to overcome the challenge of Carryduff and an early sending off for the Down champions backed that theory, but it wasn’t until injury time that the game was firmly put to bed.  A more workman like performance than we have been used to witnessing from the Donegal champions but a sign that they know how to get the job done.

They are a hugely physical side with plenty of quality littered throughout their squad.  In Gavin McBride they have an expert from dead ball while Naoise O’Boyle and Michael Carroll’s performances have been hugely influential.  Captain Niall Friel has led by example while marshalling a defence that has yielded just 1-6 from play in their three matches and while like any Donegal team, they pack their defence, how they break is the epitome of where football is nowadays.  Speed, strength, in numbers, agility and precision.  They don’t break in one’s or two’s but in packs of four and five making it extremely difficult to defend against as Rossa, Donaghmoyne and Carryduff will testify.

Lavey’s Eamon McGill and Gaoth Dobhair’s Naoise O’Baoill have both impressed on the way to the final and could be key players for their sides on Sunday.

They have reached the decider without the services of key men Cian Mulligan and Ciaran Gillespie and while the rumour mill is turning regarding Mulligan, it is expected that the Donegal senior panellist will start the game on the bench.  They have the foundations of a team that were hurting from last years incredible match against eventual winners Glen.  The Donegal men threw away a six point lead at the semi-final stage and perhaps the memories of 12 months ago was still fresh in their minds during the tense closing stages against Carryduff.  That ghost has been well and truly exorcised.

The Donegal men are a well drilled side who deservedly hold the favourites tag for Sunday’s final but Lavey have been underdogs for as long as they have been in the championship.  It will be a fascinating contest between two teams with contrasting styles of play.  Whoever makes the early running could go a long way in determining where the Paddy McLarnon Cup will reside for 2018.  In their two matches, Lavey have been slow to impose their game on the opposition and if they do the same against Gaoth Dobhair, they will find the Donegal men are a more difficult proposition to Galbally and Southern Gaels.

It’s a tough one to call and as the cliché goes it could depend on who best handles the occasion.  All eyes will be on the Donegal champions but don’t be surprised to see the Lavey men make a mockery of the underdog tag once again.

Thomas Cassidy who has scored 2-11 over the two games for the Derry champions while Gavin McBride has top scored for the Donegal men and both could have a major influence on the outcome of Sunday’s final.

Expected teams

Gaoth Dobhair: Cathal Doherty; Ciarán Hughes; Gary McFadden; Ryan Kelly; Conor McCafferty; Niall Friel; Neasan McBride; Michael Carroll; Odhrán McFadden; Naoise Boyle; Eamon Ó Colm; Daire Boyle; Seaghám Ferry; Gavin McBride; Ethan Harkin

Lavey: Eoin Mulholland; Aidan Toner; Conor Mulholland; Kevin Toner; Ruairi McGurk; Eamon McGill; James Crawford; Brendan Laverty; Dara McPeake; Oran Downey; Hugh McGurk; Peter Rafferty; Thomas Donnelly; Shea Downey; Fintan Bradley


Paths to the final

Gaoth Dobhair

Preliminary Round Vs Rossa 4-7 to 1-5

Scorers: Gavin McBride 1-3 (2 frees); Eamonn Ó Colm 1-2; Michael Carroll 1-1; Daire Boyle 1-1

Quarter-Final Vs Donaghmoyne 2-9 to 0-10

Scorers: Gavin McBride (1-5, 4 f’s); Ethan Harkin (1-1, 1 f); Michael Carroll (0-1); Eamon Ó Colm (0-1); Daire Boyle (0-1)

Semi-Final Vs Carryduff 2-8 to 0-7

Scorers: Eamon Ó Colm (2-0); Gavin McBride (0-4 2 f’s); Niall Friel (0-1); Michael Carroll (0-1); Naoise Boyle (0-1); Daire Boyle (0-1); Niall Friel (0-1); Michael Carroll (0-1); Naoise Boyle (0-1);


Quarter-Final Vs Galbally 2-7 to 0-5

Scorers: Thomas Donnelly 1-6, 4 f’s 1-00 pen); Shea Downey 1-00; Peter Rafferty 0-1; Fintan Bradley 0-1

Semi-Final Vs Southern Gaels 3-7 to 0-9

Scorers: Thomas Donnelly (1-5, 3 f’s); Fintan Bradley (1-2, 1 ’45); Peter Rafferty (1-00)

Shea Downey and Fintan Bradley provide a serious attacking threat for Lavey.

Eamon O’Colm who scored two goals against Carryduff in the semi-final and Niall Friel who has been excellent in a solid Gweedore defence.


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