Seamus Lacey of Laois, left, in action against Offaly’s Jack Bryant. For Ireland GAA reports see this week's print/digital edition out Wednesday. [Inpho/James Lawlor]

13-a-side proves a good idea

Rangers 2-15 Donegal 3-11

The local New York GAA’s schedule got underway this weekend at Gaelic Park. This was in sharp contrast to the previous week when reportedly over 7,000 were in attendance for the Connacht Championship game between Mayo and New York, with the Westerners winning comfortably as predicted. Well on Saturday, a few hardy souls or real true blue GAA stalwarts showed up for the opening game of the senior football league between Rangers and Donegal. Such was the scarcity of personnel that the referee had to start the game without either linesmen or umpires. Refereeing can be a very onerous task under the best of conditions, but operating without the requisite officials is grossly unfair especially to the referee, but also to the players. 

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Eventually reliables Mike Brosnan and Seamus McNabb stepped into the breach and manned the uprights.  In fairness to the referee, Jeff Farrell, he did a very admirable job under very challenging circumstances. 

Meanwhile a 13-aside layout is the preferred format for the league competition. Ostensibly the rationale for this shortened layout is some teams’ panels are not very large in the early part of the season. Later squads are boosted by the summer or student players and then it’s back to the traditional 15-aside.  However I think that you could make a reasonable argument for sticking with the shorter layout as it can lead to a more attractive brand of football. There’s more fluidity to the game, less blanket type defenses, as players have more options and space to display their distinctive styles and skills.  

Overall this was an exciting game with the result in doubt right down to the final whistle. However, Rangers had the edge and the lead for most of the game, except for one brief period during the second half. They started strongly with Joey Grace popping over the first score Last week he was a superb shot-stopped, this week he proved to be handy at taking and making scores. 

On the five minute mark Rangers got their first major strike when PJ King finished a rebounded shot from Tommy Hanaway to the net. Rangers looked to be running rampant at this stage as Joey Grace sent over a spectacular shot from the wing for his second point. However on a counter-attack Donegal stalled Rangers’ momentum as Peter McNeilis crashed in a well-executed goal. Then it appeared to be back to the Rangers script as Emmett Loughlin forced a great save from keeper Conor Tinney, but Grace knocked the resultant “45” over the bar. Tommy Hanaway culminated a defense-splitting movement involving Emmett Loughlin and King to punch over a point. Midway in the period Stephen O’Quigley sauntered from defense to get Donegal’s first point, but it was quickly answered by a PJ King point.  For the remainder of the period the exchanges were fairly even, both sides would add four points leaving the Rangers leading by 1-9 to 1-5 at the short whistle. Kevin Loane, Emmett Loughlin and PJ King pointed while Joey Grace pointed his second “45” after keeper Conor Tinney brilliantly saved a goal-bound shot. At the other end Peter McNeilis and Eoghan Doody were on target along with a brace from corner-back Kaelan Walsh. 

Upon resumption Rangers looked set to be comfortably clear of Donegal as they added points courtesy of Tommy Hanaway and King.  However the Tir Connell men were on the cusp of enjoying their best spell. Colm Doherty started their scoring spree with a fine long range point and that was quickly followed by another superb score from Peter McNeilis. 

Then came a major strike, a goal, that just left the minimum between the sides, 1-11 to 2-7 with 10 minutes gone in the half. A pointed Joey Grace free got the lead back to two, but Donegal hit three unanswered points courtesy of Sean Conroy and Peter McNeilis to go ahead by a point circa midway in the period. However, that was as good as it got for Donegal as Rangers rebounded to stamp their authority on proceedings. First chief scorer Grace levelled up and Emmet Clarke pushed his team in front with a punched effort. Then with five minutes left on the clock PJ King goaled after Kevin Loane picked him out with a well-delivered pass, plus another Ranger point followed to put five between the sides. 

The last few minutes kept the small crowd intensely engaged as Donegal had no intentions of throwing in the towel and they battled to the end. Then the best goal of the match from Peter McNeilis and a minor from Eoghan Doody got them within a point of their opponents, but the clock called time on any further scores.  Overall a very competitive and entertaining game, but Rangers were deserving winners as they were the more consistent squad while also having the edge in the possession stakes. This weekend the New York GAA are hosting a full schedule of games on Saturday and Sunday. One of those games is a hold over league final from 2023.     

Rangers: Chris Mulvihill, Eoin Smith, Shane Doheny, Emmett Clarke, Danny Burke, Tommy Murphy, Niall McStay, Brian Twomey, Emmett Loughlin, Kevin Loane, Joey Grace, Tommy Hanaway, PJ King. Sub Chris Kennedy.

Donegal: Conor Tinney, Kaelan Walsh, Sean Conroy, Stephen O’Quigley, Declan Hughes, Bradley Doherty, Paddy Carpenter, Tommy Carpenter, Eoghan Doody, Colm O’Doherty, Even Mulgrey, Peter McNeilis, Tiernan McLaughlin. Subs Keenan Sexton, Rory Mulligan, John Brennan, AJ Willis. Man of Match Jeff Farrell.