Following a one point defeat of Rossa from Magherafelt in the semi-final, Clann Eireann’s under 16 side ironically face Belfast side Rossa in Sunday’s Ulster final.
The Paul McGirr Cup competition, which is run by the Dromore club in County Tyrone, brings together the best juvenile sides from around the Province and on recent form it would be difficult to argue against the merits of Sunday’s final pairing.
The County Antrim Champions had a staggering 5-07 to 0-06 victory over the host club last Sunday, but Clann Eireann’s narrow semi-final win over their Magherafelt opponents may stand them in good stead as they prepare for Sunday’s showpiece.
The Lurgan club, who are reaping the rewards of many years of specialist coaching, have had a superb year to say the least. The Clanns recently narrowly lost both the All County under 21 and Minor Championship deciders, and they will be well prepared to face the Antrim Champions with a degree of confidence
Corner back Thomas French was the hero for Clann Eireann when he strode forward to covert a last minute point to earn his team a place in the 2015 Paul McGirr Ulster U16 final, securing a one point win over a gallant Magherafelt O’Donovan Rossa in a superb game played in atrocious weather conditions. All the damage was done for the winners in a blistering start that left them 1-03 to no score ahead after 15 minutes.
The introduction of Caolan Coyle and Giuseppe Lupari at this stage by the Magherafelt management made a huge difference but with difficult underground conditions and constant torrential rain it was always going to be difficult to make up the deficit.
Two early converted frees from Tiernan Kelly and Rioghan Meehan and a superb score from raiding centre back Jack Haddock put the Lurgan boys in control before hesitancy in the Magherafelt defence was punished in emphatic fashion with Ruairi McConville finishing superbly to the bottom corner at the end of a swift move started be Meehan. The towering Odhran Lynch finally got the Derry champions off the mark converting a free after tenacious work by Cormac Murphy. Lynch who had switched to midfield and Murphy fought valiantly to turn the tide and as the half progressed they started to boss the midfield proceedings. Callum Magee charged forward for another Clann Eireann point before Lynch responded again with a magnificent fifty yard free. Meehan and Ben McErlain swapped converted frees with the introduced Caolan Coyle rounding off the scoring to leave it 1-05 to 0-04 at half time.
Magherafelt needed a good start to the second half and their wishes were answered when man of the match Cormac Murphy rounded a few Clann Eireann defenders and caught everyone by surprise with a blistering drive to the bottom corner of the net. Immediately afterwards Simon McErlain equalised and the Magherafelt support were suddenly believing a win was possible.
However, despite their great efforts they could never manage to get in front with the levels of effort and commitment of both teams a joy to behold for the large crown in attendance. Clann Eireann wing forward Meehan was displaying tremendous energy levels, constantly foraging in his own defence for the ball and setting up attacks for his colleagues and it was he who put his side back in front from the right wing.
Another two well placed frees from Lynch and one in response from Meehan levelled things up again and everything was set up for a tense finale with both sides giving their all in search of the winner.
However, when the winner came, it came from the most unlikely of sources when French foraging into the opposition half for the first time in the game found himself in space in the final minute and showed great composure to hit the winning point from 35 yards, much to the delight of the travelling Clann Eireann support.
Magherafelt had one final chance in the dying seconds but desperate last ditch defending from the Clann Eireann rearguard kept them at bay to see their side progress to the Ulster U16 final for the first time.
Clann Eireann manager Mairitin McConville was delighted with the outcome, “We got off to a wonderful start in the game, but we knew that Magherafelt were a tremendous team and that it was going to go right down to the wire,” said Mairitin.
“The standard of football was an absolute credit to both teams given the conditions and our boys showed tremendous character right to the end, Thomas being a corner back is not a prolific scorer so we were absolutely delighted to see him pop up with the winning score.”