So remote was the prospect of an Ulster club title to Eamonn McGee for most of his career that he rated it about as likely as playing in a World Cup final. “That’s what it felt like, and you don’t get to play in a World Cup final.”
Yet when football dreams come true, this is what they look like. Healy Park in Omagh was Gweedore’s World Cup stage and they left as first-time winners after an extra-time battle, ensuring the trophy returned to Donegal for the first time since 1975.
“It’s a special feeling, we have looked on for years and years and it was nearly something you dreamt of,” said McGee.
“I suppose we used our experience well this year but the younger boys, I couldn’t credit them enough.
“They won an Ulster U21 club title earlier this year and they brought the drive and the ambition to us, because they were never happy with winning a county championship.
“We won it in 2006 and we were happy enough. They weren’t.”
Scotstown, seasoned in the Ulster club environment, were seemingly next in line to succeed Slaughtneil as provincial champions.
They ended up being beaten after extra-time in an Ulster final for the second time in four years (Crossmaglen also winning by a point in 2015).
All-Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan’s fairytale year ended on a sour note — he had a chance to take the game to a second bout of extra-time but surprised everyone by dropping a 45m free short.
Extra Time! It's finished 11 points a piece between Gweedore and Scotstown in the @AIB_GAA Ulster Senior Football Championship Final! Lovely weather for it too! @LiveGAAResults pic.twitter.com/ZPMP0BZvw8— Inpho Photography (@Inphosports) December 2, 2018
They were level at 0-11 at the end of normal time, though there was a huge call made deep into stoppage time which prevented it from being ended right there.
Micheal Carroll thought he’d nailed the winner but referee Noel Mooney disallowed the score for a throw ball by Odhran McFadden-Ferry in the build-up. A contentious call, but TV replays showed it to be the correct one.
So Scotstown, who had led by two, 0-11 to 0-9, with five minutes to go, survived but failed to make the most of the reprieve.
Shane Carey received a straight red card in the ninth minute of extra time with his team leading by a point. He’d scored six points and his loss was a seismic blow.
“I felt it was very harsh in a game of that magnitude,” said Scotstown boss Kieran Donnelly. “It was maybe the linesman who called it for a strike to the head. I felt it wasn’t to the head.
You have to be very sure in a game like an Ulster final where fellas have trained four or five nights a week. Shane was devastated, he’s not even a dirty player. To make a call like that was massive.
There are things we could have done better as well so it wasn’t all down to that, but it was a big turning point.
Both sides finished with 14 men, with Eamonn McGee sent-off late on for two yellows. His dismissal was irrelevant — Carey’s wasn’t.
They were level five times in the first half in difficult conditions underfoot.
Scotstown shored up their defence from the semi-final when they leaked 2-10 against Coleraine.
Wary of the four goals Gweedore had put past Crossmaglen, it was no surprise they went with a sweeper this time with Donal Morgan dropping deep and Jamie McCarey doing the man-marking job on Daire O Baoill, the hat-trick hero against Cross.
A week of rain left conditions soft and heavy and it was a defensive, tactical battle, with scores and chances at a premium. Both sides looked dangerous on the break, Gweedore snuffing out a Scotstown attack and Michael Carroll finishing a sweeping move up the field to put the Donegal champions back in front.
Collum’s dropping shot was spilled by Rory Beggan and when he failed to gather it on his muddy goalline, O Baoill slid in but his shot deflected off Emmet Caulfield and Beggan was fortunate to clear the danger at the third attempt.
Darren Hughes was influential and pointed from distance but the opposite number 14, Kevin Cassidy, responded, with Carey and Cian Mulligan trading scores towards the end of a tight first half hour.
Scotstown appeared to steal a march on Gweedore in the third quarter.
They scored three points on the bounce through two Carey frees and a Conor McCarthy point to move 0-8 to 0-5 ahead. In the context of the game, a three-point lead looked massive but Gweedore showed a lot of enterprise. While Mulligan and O Baoill were well held, Kevin Cassidy was superb on the edge of the square and Odhran McNiallais had a big influence despite also being well marked.
It was he who finally shook off Damien McArdle to score the equaliser with one minute to go before the late drama of Carroll’s disallowed point took it to extra time.
No one in the 5,313 crisis was too disappointed.
Although it was a far greater tactical battle than either of their respective semi-final
victories, it was an absorbing contest which Gweedore just about deserved to edge.
Scorers for Gweedore:
O MacNiallais 0-4 (3f), K Cassidy 0-2, C Mulligan, E Collum, M Carroll, N O Baoill, J O Baoille, S Ferry 0-1 each, J Carroll 0-1 (f)
Scorers for Scotstown :
S Carey 0-6 (3f), Rory Beggan 0-2 (1f, 1 ‘45’) D Hughes, K Hughes, C McCarthy, D McArdle 0-1 each
J Carroll for Collum (34), S Ferry for N O Baoill (60), P McGee for McBride (61), J Boyle for G McFadden (64)
J Hamill for McKenna (53), O Heaphey for Maguire (57), B Boylan for McCarey (71), D McCrudden for F Caulfield (81) Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)