DUBLIN 2-16 DONEGAL 0-13
BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT CROKE PARK
RUTHLESS Dublin netted two late goals to inflict an undeserved nine-point defeat on Donegal at Croke Park last night and leave top flight status hanging in the balance for Jim McGuinness’s men.
Donegal must now beat Armagh in their final League game in Ballybofey on Easter Sunday after being hit by a late Dublin salvo, as last-gasp goals by Bryan Cullen and Diarmuid Connolly saw the Dubs swagger at the finish.
An injury to Michael Murphy that forced the captain off ten minutes from the end took the wind from Donegal’s sails just as they seemed set to pounce for a win.
They’d trailed 0-9 to 0-5 after a disappointing first-half, but they were more than a match for the All-Ireland champions in a competitive second-half.
With 15 minutes left, Murphy levelled things up at 0-11 apiece, only for the skipper to be forced off with a knee injury soon after and it was Pat Gilroy’s men who closed in style – as Cullen and Connolly netted past a shell-shocked Donegal to win by nine.
“It was disappointing to concede them so late when we had been so competitive,” said Donegal manager Jim McGuinness after the game.
A rematch of one of the most talked about games of last year – the All-Ireland semi-final between the counties last August – this was one that was always going to attract some attention and so it proved.
However, it was a much different game. Donegal weren’t as defensive on Saturday night, but in the second-half especially they showed a real attacking threat at times with Murphy operating on the ’40’ supremely, making incision-after-incision in the Dubs’ rearguard.
The first-half, in an admittedly less tense atmosphere, had as many scores as the All-Ireland semi-final (14), with Dublin four up, only for Donegal to make a real fight of it until Murphy’s enforced withdrawal.
With his team four points down (0-9 to 0-5) heading into the second-half it was Murphy who led the Tir Chonaill fightback. Now facing the blue masses on the Hill straight in the eye, Murphy kick-started the revival with a beauty of a free from 45 metres. He added another from play after seizing on a loose ball when Lacey had the ball flicked from his grasp.
Full-back Neil McGee managed to get in on the scoring when he sailed over in the 42nd minute. McGee had a chance of a second later in the game, but couldn’t double his tally.
Patrick McBrearty leveled matters with a 20-metre free won by Murphy, but McManamon and Dean Kelly hit the quick-fire points that reminded us the Dubs weren’t going to wilt.
However, Donegal were level again 15 minutes from the end. Christy Toye and Murphy (free) scored to draw Donegal on a par, but in between times Murphy had shipped a heavy knock in a collision with Dublin sub’ Seán Murray. Mr Kevin Moran, one of the team medics, seemed as if he was frantically trying to persuade Murphy to come off but after initially playing on, the skipper had to call it a day with 11 minutes still to play.
His absence had a huge bearing on the course the contest would take. Stephen Cluxton came up to land a free before Paul Flynn brilliantly opened up a two-point gap again – one that was widened by Dean Rock after good approach work by Connolly. The tale had a threatening look to it when McManamon shot the Dubs four up.
Cluxton came to the home side’s rescue when he brilliantly saved to deny McBrearty, who got his shot away after collecting from Anthony Thompson’s deliver. Cluxton turned around the post and his opposite number Durcan drove the ’45 wide. Although Walsh and McElhinney did ensure that Donegal kept fighting to the end, they were powerless to stop the navy and blue express from exploding in for the devastating late blows.
Cullen burst in from the left-hand side to crack past Durcan and if that was hard to swallow the second had an even more gut-wrenching feel to it as Connolly scampered in for a second goal to seal a nine-point win which leaves the Dubs with one foot in the semis and Donegal scrambling for survival.
“The scoreline probably flattered us in the end up with the goals,” admitted Dublin manager Pat Gilroy. “It was another tough game. We had a couple of chances in the first-half that might have made a big difference, but when you don’t take those you’ll get a battle – and, in fairness to Donegal, they really put it up to us for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second-half.”
Dublin: S Cluxton (0-1, 1f); C O’Sullivan, R O’Carroll, P McMahon; J Cooper (0-1), G Brennan, K Nolan; E Fennell (0-1), M.D McAuley (0-1); B Cullen (1-1), A Brogan (0-1), P Flynn (0-1); T Quinn (0-1), D Connolly (1-3, 2f), K McManamon (0-3). Subs: S Murray for Brennan (25 mins); D Rock (0-1) for Brogan (30 mins); D Kelly (0-1) for Quinn (half-time); C Dias for Cooper (59 mins)
Donegal: P Durcan; F McGlynn, N McGee (0-1), P McGrath; A Thompson (0-1), K Lacey, L McLoone (0-1); C Toye (0-1), N Gallagher; M McHugh, R Bradley, M O’Reilly; M McElhinney (0-1), M Murphy (0-6, 3f, 1 ’45), P McBrearty (0-1, 1f). Subs: D Walsh (0-1) for O’Reilly (30 mins); E McGee for Toye (53 mins); A Hanlon for Murphy (59 mins); D McLaughlin for Bradley (64 mins).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.