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He who (Kil) dares, wins

DONEGAL 1-12 KILDARE 0-14

after extra time

Report by Chris McNulty at Croke Park

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IT WAS the moment time stood still.

Donegal had already completed a momentous comeback in this gripping All Ireland quarter-final to come from three points down in the final eight compelling minutes of extra time to level things up. It was only a matter of waiting for David Coldrick to sound the final whistle and the teams would do battle again…but Kevin Cassidy had other ideas. 

The clock showed that ten seconds of the allotted two minutes of injury-time remained when the Gaoth Dobhair man took receipt of the ball, some 50 metres from goal.

In one last, tired swing of the left boot Cassidy sealed a memorable win as his majestic effort sailed between the Hill 16 posts. Seconds later, the travelling Tir Chonaill hoards in the 39,612 crowd erupted inside Croke Park as they toasted the booking of a first All Ireland semi-final place in eight years.

It took four seconds for the ball to glide over the black spot from it left Cassidy’s boot. Just six seconds were left when the flag went up. The game was up for Kieran McGeeney and Kildare, who must surely be wondering where they go from here – a third quarter-final defeat in four years.

The old stadium has seen many dramas in its epic past, but rarely has there been a contest that rested upon the edge of the knife so enthrallingly in the closing stages. The teams had played the expected Gaelic football version of chess for much of normal time, Kildare leading 0-5 to 0-3 a the end of an uninspiring first-half.

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Donegal looked set for a win when super sub Christy Toye struck a goal 12 minutes from time – just seconds after he was sent on as a sub for Colm McFadden – but Kildare hit back with three points to force extra time.

Kildare then appeared to have take control in the extra period, only for Donegal to dig as deep as they’ve done into their vast reservoir of belief to seal a sensational win.

Make no mistake about it, this was far from a vintage Donegal performance. They went almost half-an-hour without a score from Rory Kavanagh’s ninth minute point until Mark McHugh ended that particular barren spell with the final score of the first period.

Then they went from Christy Toye’s splendid 58th minute goal without a score until Karl Lacey scored a point that should rank as one of the game’s key moments in stoppage time at the end of the first period of extra time.

And yet this will go down as one of the great Donegal victories. And rightly so for it was a win earned with courage, determination, raw passion and a sheer refusal to accept that it wasn’t their evening.

For the first time in 50 Championship outings, Kildare’s talismatic skipper, John Doyle, was kept scoreless and the much vaunted talents of Tomás O’Connor nestle safely in Neil McGee’s hip pocket this morning.

James Kavanagh scored just once –  and even that was an outrageous score from an impossible angle in the shadows of the Cusack Stand – while the supposed fittest team in Ireland fell in exhaustion at the end as Donegal scored a famous finish to dump them out of the race for Sam.

Donegal’s hopes of lasting in that particular race were dealt a hammer blow when Michael Murphy was deemed not fit enough to start the game with a hamstring injury. The Glenswilly man seemed to have defied the suggestion that he wouldn’t make it as he led the team around for the parade. He then parted from a huddle and his place taken by David Walsh.

He was called upon just 27 minutes in, he and Eamon McGee thrown in with Donegal trailing 0-4 to 0-2. Patrick McBrearty and Rory Kavanagh hit the scores for Donegal, while three points by Eoghan O’Flaherty – who had received some kicking guidance from Ronan O’Gara on Wednesday – gave Kildare the initiative.

Mark McHugh was denied a goal when Connolly saved from his low effort and Eamonn Callaghan put the Lilywhites three up with the first-half drawing to a forgettable close. With the last kick of the half, Mark McHugh popped over and at the interval Kildare were 0-5 to 0-3 ahead.

Two minutes into the second-half O’Flaherty landed a massive free, but in the next eight minutes Donegal had found the high gears and with Murphy, Ryan Bradley and Dermot Molloy on the mark the teams were level.

Kildare were lording the battle at centrefield, but the Tir Chonaill defence was in no mood for gifts.

Alan Smith did find a gap to put Kildare ahead, but Kevin Cassidy quickly dispelled any notion that Kildare would kick on.

And with twelve minutes to go, Donegal were ahead for only the second time in the match – crucially, with the game’s first goal. Frank McGlynn might have been excellent in his defensive duties, but his assistance to the Donegal attack cannot be ignored either. It was the Glenfin warrior who laid on the pass for Christy Toye, who struck a memorable goal meagre seconds after entering the play.

That came after Tomás O’Connor had a goal ruled out for a square ball infringement. Replays suggested a harsh call against the Kildare front-man by the officials and was a further feather in the cap of those harking for technology’s entrance to the game.

When it seemed as if they might press for the win, Donegal missed a couple of good chances to put four between them and when they retreated Kildare came in for three points, O’Flaherty and James Kavanagh bringing them to within one before Donegal conceded possession and then a 20-metre free three minutes into the second-half with which O’Flaherty duly forced extra-time.

Again, Kildare were commanding as they swept three clear, but a telling score by Karl Lacey returned things into the melting pot.

Emmet Bolton scored a fine point from distance two minutes into the second period of extra-time, but then came that final, stirring reply. Murphy played the captain’s role in scoring two in a minute – the second of them a massive free from 50 metres that defied both distance and hamstring – to haul Donegal back into it.

Toye levelled it up and then Donegal spiralled into dreamland as Cassidy scored a point that they’ll talk about around the firesides for years to come.

Whisper it gently: Donegal are 70 minutes away from an All Ireland final.

DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Frank McGlynn, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Kevin Cassidy (0-2); Neil Gallagher, Rory Kavanagh (0-1); Mark McHugh (0-1), Michael Hegarty, Ryan Bradley (0-1); Patrick McBrearty (0-1), David Walsh, Colm McFadden. SUBS: Michael Murphy (0-3, 1f) for McBrearty (27 mins); Eamon McGee for McGrath (27 mins); Martin McElhinney for Gallagher (half-time); Dermot Molloy (0-1) for Hegarty (41 mins); Christy Toye (1-1) for McFadden (58 mins); Kevin Rafferty for McElhinney (70 mins); Colm McFadden for Molloy (70 mins); Neil Gallagher for Rafferty (80 mins); Dermot Molloy for McFadden (81 mins); Patrick McBraerty for Bradley (88 mins).

KILDARE: Shane Connolly; Aindriú MacLochlainn, Michael Foley, Hugh McGrillen; Brian Flanagan, Morgan O’Flaherty, Emmet Bolton (0-1); John Doyle, Daryl Flynn; Pádraig O’Neill (0-1), Eoghan O’Flaherty (0-6, 4f), Eamonn Callaghan (0-1); Robert Kelly, Tomás O’Connor, James Kavanagh (0-1). SUBS: Alan Smith (0-2) for O’Connor (41 mins); Ollie Lyons for MacLochlainn (61 mins); Ronan Sweeney (0-1) for Flanagan (61 mins); Mikey Conway for O’Neill (65 mins); Gary White (0-1, 1f) for Doyle (70 mins); Fionn Dowling for Kavanagh (75 mins); John Doyle for E.O’Flaherty (77 mins); Brian Flanagan for Kelly (85 mins).

REFEREE: David Coldrick (Meath).

 

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