Knocknagree guaranteed their place in a Croke Park showpiece after comfortably ending the interest of Naomh Colmcille in the AIB All-Ireland JAFC semi-final at arctic TEG Cusack Park, Mullingar on Saturday.
It was another solid team performance from the Cork champions, underpinned by an outstanding work ethic. Again, Knocknagree’s style of play was easy on the eye throughout the hour with clever link play and accurate passing evident.
And while Naomh Colmcille made a determined effort to get back into the frame midway through the second half, too many errors and the concession of sloppy goals in the opening spell proved their downfall, as did the loss of two players in the latter stages.
At the full-time whistle, it was easy to understand Knocknagree manager John Fintan Daly’s delight.
“Our focus was much better, for I banned the use of two words over the past two weeks: ‘Croke Park’. If you didn’t win this game, you might as well have been a million miles away. It wasn’t our most polished performance but you go out and better what’s in front of you,” he said.
Naomh Colmcille boss Ryan McKinnley admitted the better team prevailed and took the defeat on the chin.
“Calling a spade, a spade, you‘ve to hand it to Knocknagree, they were fastest out of the starting blocks, a series of enforced errors saw us concede goals which isn’t good enough at this level. The boys are hugely disappointed, the setback will drive us on, to become the first Donegal club to a win an Ulster JAFC is positive for intermediate ranks,” he said.
Daly’s expectations about the Naomh Colmcille line-up came to fruition and the Knocknagree attack had the Ulster men’s defensive policy in disarray from an early stage.
“Like everybody else, we research opponents as best we can, their listed corner forward William Lynch is a natural half-back. They were applying a sweeper system yet it wasn’t going to deter us from our attacking policy,” he said.
Knocknagree looked the more accomplished side from the outset, though they enjoyed a large slice of luck for the opening goal in the fourth minute. James Dennehy’s effort for a point was partly blocked by a defender and despite the best efforts of keeper John Roulstone, the ball looped into the roof of the net.
Defensively, Knocknagree scarcely put a foot wrong with Michael Mahoney, Paul O’Connor, Kealan Buckley, and Donagh Moynihan outstanding. Up front, Eoghan McSweeney and John F Daly Junior thrived on a supply of quality possession.
At times, Knocknagree kicked frustrating wides yet they were in the driving seating approaching half-time, a classic turnover allowed Anthony O’Connor place Daly for a goal that forged a 2-4 to 0-3 interval advantage.
The Munster champions extended their position to nine points on the restart before the Netowncunningham side came more into the picture. Team captain Willie Gillespie and Daniel Clarke pointed frees and former Derry City and Finn Harps soccer player Matthew Crossan provided their lone score from play.
Knocknagree lost midfielder Danny Cooper and McSweeney to injury and that will be a concern ahead of the final, while a dismal afternoon for Naomh Colmcille got worse with red cards for the Lynch brothers.
J Dennehy, JF Daly Jnr (1-0 each); E McSweeney, F O’Connor, A O’Connor (f), D Moynihan (0-2 each); C White (0-1).
W Gillespie (0-4 frees); M Crossan (0-2), D Clarke (0-1 free).
P Doyle; M Mahoney, Gary O’Connor, K Buckley, K Daly, D Moynihan, P O’Connor; D Cooper, P Collins; J Dennehy, E McSweeney, F O’Connor; M Dilworth, J F Daly, A O’Connor.
A Sheehan for K Daly(28 bc), C White for D Cooper(ht inj), T Cooper for McSweeney(56 inj), C O’Leary for Collins(61), T Long for J F Daly(61).
J Roulstone; A Devenney, R Hegarty, G Curran; K Gallagher, C Devine, P Friel; M Lynch, D Clarke; J Fullerton, R McErlean, O Hilley; M Crossan, W Gillespie, W Lynch.
M Friel for Curran (ht), E Gillespie for Gallagher (37).
J Gilmartin (Sligo).