Clarke keen to keep St Patrick’s journey going

By Barry O’Donnell

FESTIVE time indulgences will have to be put on hold among the teenagers of Donaghmore as the club’s Minors eye a very special Christmas present.

The Tyrone double winners are now just sixty minutes away from an appearance in a provincial final, but standing in their way are Four Masters of Donegal in the semi-final of the St Paul’s Ulster Minor Football Tournament this Boxing Day lunchtime in west Belfast (throw-in 1pm). St Patrick’s were forced to dig deep to earn their passage into the last four last Saturday night on the 3G surface at Colaiste Feirste on the Falls Road.

Down to fourteen men with their influential attacker Ronan Molloy having been red carded with just over twenty minutes remaining, Donaghmore had also witnessed a six point lead disappear against a fired up Scotstown.

Yet inspired by the likes of Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, Conor O’Neill and Noah Grimes (who slotted over a series of late frees) they warmed the hearts of their supporters on a baltic Belfast night with a stirring revival to run out 1-12 to 1-9 victors.

Centre-half back Joey Clarke set the tone for the late surge when he fired over an excellent equalising point with just ten minutes to go, and he admitted that they had to batten down the hatches to see the job through.

“ With Ronan going off it was a big blow. We always knew we could dig deep and to see it out towards the end. We won a couple of frees near the end and Noah always puts them over. That got us over the line.

“ They are a very good team and we knew they would have a spell. It was all about weathering that and reducing the damage they could cause. They were very strong at the end of the first half and then had another purple patch at the start of the second.”

It was understandable if there was a degree of rustiness about the Donaghmore performance given their last competitive outing was back at the end of September in the Tyrone Championship Final. Clarke, a student at St Joseph’s Convent, acknowledged that aside from a few school games they hadn’t seen much game time action in the intervening period.

“ It has been a good while since we played Eglish in the final. We have had school games this last few weeks which helped to sharpen us up again. I have had a couple of competitive games in the MacLarnon Cup which has been good with Donaghmore. At least it meant we weren’t all coming in rusty with the Club again.

“ There is still plenty to work on which is probably understandable as we haven’t played as a team together for about three months. Hopefully this match will stand to us and it will come together even more the next day out.

“ We have picked up the training sessions and will have more no doubt before the semi-final even with it being Christmas week.”

Joey joked that the sweets and mince pies might have to be placed on the backburners until after the match this coming Monday.

“ We will have to lay off the treats on Christmas Day but we will look forward to the semi-final. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for this group to try and get to an Ulster Final. We will relish it and prepare well for it.

“ It’s the first time that Donaghmore have competed in Ulster at this level. It’s great for the club. You could hear the buzz in the crowd even on a cold night, they travelled in great numbers to support us. There was even a bus put on for them which was class.”

And Clarke was looking forward to another fresh challenge in the shape of Four Masters who were too strong for Irvinestown in their opening round encounter.

“ We don’t really know where we sit compared to the rest of the counties. Some of them played their Minor Championship a bit late I think so they didn’t have as long to wait. It’s just good to face fresh teams. We know we did the double in Tyrone and proved ourselves but you want to pit yourself against the best in Ulster too.”

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