By Mike Fitzpatrick
Donegal’s Ken Ray could not have picked a better time to score an equalizer for his side. Trailing Rockland by one point with less than five seconds left, Ray hit a free kick over the bar to level the tie at 10 points apiece with what turned out to be the final kick of this junior football Div. 1 game Sunday at Gaelic Park. Before this final flourish, however, Donegal quite often found themselves behind in a game where Rockland, eager to do their utmost to defeat the side containing a number of the New York panelists, battled wholeheartedly to win outright.
The contest opened on a worrying note for Donegal. With less than a minute gone, the Ulstermen’s star midfielder, Gary Dowd, took a knock which witnessed him being taken off the field of play to receive attention from the stadium’s doctor. Veteran Connie Molloy, no stranger to Gaelic Park, came on as a temporary replacement until Dowd was deemed fit to return to the action a short time later. Donegal forward Dermot Boylan opened the scoring with a point for his team, only for weekender Leo Turley to respond immediately for Rockland.
Donegal took the lead twice more in the first half through Tadhg O’Donovan and Owen Farrell, though the leads on both occasions were relatively short-lived, as Liam O’Connor and Billy Horan snatched an equalizer apiece for Rockland. Their teammate Noel McGovern fired his side in front with a well taken point minutes before the interval, but perhaps predictably, Donegal grabbed one back thanks to Sean McGinlay, registering his only point of the afternoon. The sides went in at the interval level at four points apiece.
Donegal came out fighting in the second half, sneaking a two point lead thanks to Boylan and Donovan, but Rockland, not to be outdone, did the same and had Jim Dwyer and Turley to thank for their mini comeback. It was then the turn of Rockland to gain a two point lead with Dwyer again, and Emmet Woods scoring points at a stage of the game where it seemed that the next score or lead could easily win the tie. The Ulster side replied thanks to Dowd and Boylan to level the game once more, though the fresh legs of Rockland substitute Tommy Fennell threatened to swing the tie in favor of his side when he nabbed a late point to give Rockland the slenderest of leads. Boylan struck again to eliminate the margin and with minutes remaining, Turley and the Rockland forward line put together some moves which should really have finished off the tie only to see their efforts sail wide. Paul Timoney’s Ulster side can consider themselves fortunate though for winning a free in the final minute where Ray stepped forward to clinch a last gasp draw for Donegal. Rockland will be disappointed in losing their late lead, but while they were waiting for the fat lady to stretch her vocal chords, Donegal had mugged her and scored the equalizing point in the process.
Donegal: Lanty Molloy, Pat McGill, Enda Lohan, P.J. Colgan, Ray Kane, Mark McClafferty, Owen Farrell (0-1), Gary Dowd (0-1), Liam Gallagher, Ken Ray (0-1), Sean McGinlay (0-1), Tadhg O’Donovan (0-2), Conor Ward, Dermot Boylan (0-4). Anton Diver. Subs: Connie Molloy, Barry McAndrews.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Rockland: Ray Lennon, Mike Prendergast, Tom O’Riordan, Tom Norton, Mickey Joe Hennessy, Sean Roche, Denis McHugh, Donal Cassidy, Kevin Meehan, Jim Dwyer (0-2), Liam O’Connor (0-1), Billy Horan (0-1), John McGovern (0-1), Leo Turley (0-3), Emmet Woods (0-1). Subs: Shane McCawley, Tommy Fennell (0-1).