By Peter Nolan
Donegal used three well-timed goals to upend Stamford 3-11 to 0-13 in an entertaining Senior A football match at Gaelic Park last Sunday.
Stamford started well with a nice opening point from Fergal O’Neill. Pauric Graven and Stephen Owens extended the suburbanites’ lead to 0-3 and Stamford were looking good as Donegal struggled to get untracked.
Then Donegal took the short route back into the match when full forward Stephen Cassidy was first to a high-bouncing ball in the square. Cassidy grabbed the ball and banged it home. The Gwedore man was making his first appearance in New York in a couple of years and he will surely be welcome by the New York Donegal side any time.
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Stamford bounced back quickly from this setback and were the dominant team for the remainder of the first half. Wingback Peter Quillan was particularly impressive, defending well and launching several attacks. Fergal O’Neill led the Stamford attack, but Donegal kept in touch with a somewhat fortunate goal. Cassidy miss-hit a short free, but Pat Walsh was well positioned and alertly flicked Donegal’s second goal.
Stamford led 0-9 to 2-2 at the break and couldn’t have been happy with a one-point lead after all their hard work. Stamford looked determined not the leave this one behind them, as they did earlier against Cavan, and they came out flying at the restart.
Center back Richie Purcell delivered a great pass to Pauric O’Neill, who was fouled. Fergal O’Neill pointed the free before two more Stamford points stretched their lead to 0-12 to 2-2. Stamford must have thought they were on their way, but Donegal kept their cool and launched a comeback.
Martin Coll and Edmund Cleary spearheaded the Donegal revival. Coll, playing center back on this occasion, pressed forward and fed Edmund Cleary, who took his point well. Cleary then bounced off a hard shoulder tackle and fired over another fine point. When Coll slotted over a point of his own, Stamford’s advantage had been whittled back to the minimum.
Wingback Donal Breslin and midfielder Paul Higgins continued their hard grafting, the two had played a big part in keeping Stamford from pulling away, and that effort was rewarded when Cassidy banged home his second goal.
Cassidy followed Kevin Lilly’s rebound to put Donegal up by two points. Lilly was introduced at halftime and once the New York county man got acclimated it was easy to see how much Donegal had missed him. Lilly hasn’t played since New York lost to Sligo, recovering from a hamstring injury.
Donegal had Stamford on the ledge and they were only happy to give them a push. Four more Donegal points stretched their lead to 3-9 to 0-12, making it 1-7 for the Ulster men without reply.
Fergal O’Neill finally knocked over a free, but Stamford were done. Two late points from Lilly signaled that he is back and Donegal suddenly have a much more dangerous look about them.
Man of the Match: Donal Breslin.
Donegal: Eunan McIntyre, Pauric Doherty, Mark McNeill, Brian McDermott, Donal Breslin, Martin Coll (0-1), Niall McCready, Paul Higgins, Dermot Hurley, Anton Diver, Pat Walsh (1-1), Tom Walsh, Edmund Cleary (0-4, 1 free), Stephen Cassidy (2-2), Leslie McGettigan. Sub: Kevin Lilly (0-3).
Stamford: Paddy O’Donoghue, Justin O’Halloran, Kevin Newell, Darren Doherty, Peter Quillinan, Richie Power, Keith Hennesey, Paul Galvin (0-2), Jason Killeen, Sean O’Brien (0-1), Fergal O’Neill (0-7), Pauric O’Neill, Pauric Graven (0-2, 1 free), Fergal Flynn, Stephen Owens (0-1).