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Donegal Celtic 2 Coleraine 1

Less than 24 hours before Liam Watson lined out for Donegal Celtic, the gifted athlete was named Ulster Hurler of the Year.

After just 15 seconds of play at Celtic Park he was nominated for the fastest dismissal of the season.

Returning from a knee injury sustained while playing for his hurling club Loughgiel Shamrocks, Watson was again seated among his club’s supporters after he floored Coleraine’s Darren Boyce before a brow had broken sweat in this gripping game.

The boost he had given his team-mates with his return was replaced by despair as they watched him exit the field and leave them with 89 minutes to face an opponent with a one-man advantage.

But somehow the Wee Hoops surfaced with a first-ever competitive victory over Coleraine with an own goal from Bannsiders’ keeper Laurence McCormick and then a Ryan Henderson header — the latter following Ciaran Gargan deflecting Gareth Harkin’s volley into his own net.

Celtic boss Paddy Kelly said: “When I saw Liam Watson getting sent off I thought, here we go again. It’s been a tough enough season with 11 men on the pitch never mind 10 and I thought Coleraine would capitalise.

“But I cannot give the guys enough credit. I asked them for 100 per cent effort and they gave that. They have shown they are good enough and they showed they are together.

“I am naturally disappointed in Liam Watson but he’s a stand-up guy and he said Darren Boyce threw the first punch and I saw it too. Boyce should have walked but the ref might have been more sensible and warned both of them — after all, the game was just 15 seconds old and the ref didn’t see what Boyce did.”

Reflecting on a mid-week meeting between players and management, Kelly added: “There are players in the team who have feared voicing their opinion and have let people walk over the top of them.

“We got a lot of things aired at a positive meeting and everyone had their say.

“All I asked from the meeting was to bring the benefit of it into their performance against Coleraine and that’s what they did.”

Dejected Coleraine boss David Platt said: “We lost our shape when Donegal Celtic lost a man.

“I encouraged the players to get at them and to step it up after we levelled. But they just didn’t do that.”

Belfast Telegraph