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Donnelly is on the ball to make a great fist of things for Erne men

Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10

By John Campbell

The pantheon of Ulster GAA is embellished with glorious deeds, memorable individual feats and historic feats that have their roots in spectacular skill.

It is also garnished with achievements born of courage, character and unswerving commitment to a particular cause.

Yesterday in front of a captivated crowd of 10,122 at a sweltering Healy Park, Omagh a Fermanagh side that had been cast in their traditional role of also-rans provided a potent fusion of flowing flair and good old-fashioned guts to burst past Monaghan in an provincial semi-final that up until then had been destined as nothing more than a mundane affair.

The concluding minutes provided more drama, frenzy and tension than the entire competition to date - and there might even be more on the way.

To all intents and purposes, Fermanagh had seemingly been left sagging against the ropes after a brief Monaghan flurry had - or so we thought - delivered a brace of points from Donor McManus and Drew Wylie that had to all intents and purposes stamped their passport into yet another provincial decider.

That was until Fermanagh skipper Eoin Donnelly took a hand - literally. Pitched into the full-forward position because he was "out on his feet" according to manager Rory Gallagher, the Coa clubman somehow managed to get his fist to a hopeful punt from Ryan Jones and deflect the ball into the roof of the Monaghan net to highlight the most exciting climax to a semi-final in years.

It was compelling drama at it's best, a dramatic turnaround that transported the Fermanagh faithful to a sporting paradise and left Monaghan's huge support devastated.

It had all looked so different a matter of minutes earlier. Monaghan, not quite as efficient and cohesive as they can be, had taken some time to get into their stride but when they were enjoying the comfort of a 0-9 to 0-7 cushion, another provincial final appearance looked to be a formality.

But after the teams traded further points, Donnelly's arrival on the edge of the Monaghan square did not so much have the desired effect as elicit a minor miracle given Monaghan's well-honed penchant for closing out games.

This time it was different, though, and that's why today the Ulster Championship has taken on a new, more intriguing and particularly fascinating look.

Yet there was no hint of what was to unfold in the earlier stages when Fermanagh perhaps surprised themselves with the fluidity of their movement and their ability to retain possession as they pressed forward in the first-half.

They switched the play intelligently, made good use of the flanks and lured their opponents into conceding frees.

After Aidan Breen hoisted over the first point of the game in the 6th minute, Fermanagh began to move positively, although perhaps moving the ball laterally a little too often yet doing enough to frustrate a Monaghan side that experienced difficulty in growing into the game.

Sean Quigley and Breen were on target again for Fermanagh after a quarter of an hour and it was not until the 19th minute that Monaghan landed their first score when Conor McManus potted a free.

Feisty Fermanagh, though, replied with interest when Quigley landed two quick-fire points that thrust his side into an unlikely 0-5 to 0-1 lead.

And all the while Monaghan were totting up a depressing sequence of seven first-half wides that testified to the uncertainty and vulnerability within the side yesterday.

But just when Fermanagh looked to be on the verge of showing their opponents a clean pair of heels, Monaghan suddenly found their rhythm.

After McManus landed his second point from another free, Fintan Kelly scored a fine point before the former, very restricted from open play but still lethal from frees, brought his tally of converted first-half chances to three.

Fermanagh, though, had no intention of allowing Malachy O'Rourke's side off the leash. Conall Jones thundered over a spectacular point to give his side a 0-6 to 0-4 interval lead which they thoroughly deserved, Monaghan having scored only once from play.

And in a somewhat tedious third quarter, Fermanagh stubbornly refused to allow the Faraney out to leave their sights even after Ryan McAnespie, Drew Wylie and McManus pounced for points.

At 0-7 to 0-6, Monaghan threatened to move into the driving seat before Tomas Corrigan equalised prior to busy substitute Colin Walshe and McManus easing the Farney side ahead again.

Even when Wylie, whose marauding forays from full-back tended to discomfit the Fermanagh back division, and Corrigan exchanged further points, Monaghan's capacity to finish on a high note was evident.

That is, until Donnelly made his presence felt in the most telling manner possible, his fisted effort to the Monaghan net a score that will go down in Fermanagh folklore.

It was an out of the blue goal that not only stunned everyone in the ground but actually triggered a moment of stunned disbelief, as if in expectation that the score might be disallowed.

But when the green flag was raised it was the signal for an outpouring of unparalleled emotion by long-suffering fans who last saw their side make an impact in the Ulster Championship a decade ago when Armagh proved their masters.

This time, though, the sporting gods smiled benignly on them.

Teams may not always get what they feel they deserve but on this occasion the most earthy virtues were married to silken attributes to provide a heart-warming cocktail of success.

It's onwards and upwards now for Rory Gallagher and his intrepid troops and as for the statisticians and pundits they are now likely to treat them with more respect.

Who said sporting romance is dead?

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