DONEGAL 2-18 DOWN 0-13
BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN CLONES
DONEGAL reinforced quite a bit yesterday in Clones as they retained the Anglo-Celt thanks to a blistering second-half performance that blew Down away.
Donegal had eleven points to spare at the end and were full value for a landslide win after taking total control of the contest in part two.
Leo McLoone and Frank McGlynn were the goalscorers on a day that took Donegal’s threat to a new level entirely. Michael Murphy and Patrick McBrearty scored just one point apiece, as if to serve how competent most of their team-mates now are with scoring chances.
Eleven different Donegal players registered yesterday as Tir Chonaill savoured a back-to-back feeling for the first time in history on the seventh occasion of their winning of the provincial crown.
The margin of victory seemed unlikely after a cagey first-half that had Donegal ahead by one thanks to a 31st minute Leo McLoone goal and a spurt of late points, including a late brace by Declan Walsh that was key.
Down stayed with it until Donegal broke away. Hunger, desire and determination were there in spades as they zapped Down’s hopes of a first Ulster title since 1994.
The winning feeling is now well and truly with Donegal. It’s a second Ulster senior title in a row for this group and for the likes of McLoone, Declan Walsh, Paddy McGrath and Mark McHugh it’s a third Ulster crown in as many years following the U21 success in 2010 that ultimately provided a pathway for them.
Yesterday’s result served to highlight Donegal’s credentials as a serious prospect for an All-Ireland as they rocketed a superb 1-13 in the second-half on a day when they scored just three points of their 2-18 from frees.
Yesterday’s success saw Donegal open a new chapter in their history book: as well as being their own first back-to-back, they became the first team to win two successive Ulster titles coming from the preliminary round on both occasions.
It was a day to be savoured in Donegal as the win was secured long before the conclusion.
As the clock ticked into injury time, a huddle of photographers converged on the Donegal dug-out as the backroom team emptied the bench in anticipation of a final whistle that would be met with an almighty Tir Chonaill roar.
A man dandered up the touchline and embraced McGuinness. The Down man huddled his baseball-capped head into his shoulders as he congratulated the Donegal boss before the finish line was crossed. James McCartan knew the game was up.
Around an hour and a half earlier, scores were few and far between in the opening exchanges with just four scores posted in the first 20 minutes – Bradley and McBrearty for Donegal, with responses from Liam Doyle (free) and Donal O’Hare.
There were a couple of warning shots delivered across Donegal brows, with that score by O’Hare seeing Donegal sliced open. Mark Poland made the play with a tasty jink around his man, before he fed the in-rushing O’Hare.
The Down wing-forward had Coulter screaming for the ball at the back post, but elected to go it alone, only to send a curler scorching over the bar. Donegal had a sniff themselves, but Anthony Thompson screwed badly wide when the chance presented itself.
Doyle popped over a controversially awarded free – given against Neil McGee as he contested a high ball with Coulter to give Down the lead for the first time and they opened the game’s first two-point lead when O’Hare converted a close-range free of his own.
But with four minutes to go in the first-half, Donegal’s hopes received the perfect tonic. Bradley fetched a superb ball just beyond the ’45 and, having been fouled, the Buncrana man quickly fed Leo McLoone.
In space, McLoone zipped in and applied a killer finish, tucking home under Brendan McVeigh to the bottom corner.
Donegal displayed a real goal threat for the remainder of the half – and might well have had more majors on the board by the interval. After Rogers – whose galloping forays into the thick of their defence caused Donegal several headaches – levelled it up again, Doyle fired Down ahead.
Donegal finished the better in the first-half with the Walshes, Declan and David, helping to give them the edge by the time Joe McQuillan called a halt to an opening period in which he dished out six yellow cards.
David Walsh scored in between a brace of points by his namesake Declan, whose ransacking surges upfield typified Donegal’s seamless transitions between defence and attack. The Malin man might well have shot for goal when the chance presented, but the smart option was chosen and he slotted over a timely brace.
Earlier, both teams posted the now customary pre-match changes, with the hamstrung Eamon McGee unable to take his place in the squad. Declan Walsh came into the starting XV with Leo McLoone elevated also, after he was named in place of ankle ligamanent victim Neil Gallagher.
Donegal led by one at the break and still a certain nervousness lingered in the air.
No-one could have predicted what next would happen.
Down returned Benny Coulter and Dan Gordon to their fifteen, with two alterations to their named 15 seeing the experience of Kalum King and Liam Doyle added.
Within 38 seconds, Conor Laverty levelled things up again and the stage was set for a tense, tit-or-tat second-half. Instead, a fascinating Donegal took control.
Colm McFadden posted a 40m free to inch Donegal ahead again. This time, there’d be no looking back.
Two in a minute, from Murphy and Mark McHugh, opened the door a little bit wider. Down stayed in touch through scores by Liam Doyle and Eoin McCartan – who looked lively for a time following his introduction at the break – but McHugh soared over another rocket.
McGlynn was really getting into his groove and he laid on a score for McElhinney before cutting through for the game’s decisive score.
Murphy made the play, putting McGlynn through on goal. The Glenfin man tucked home his first Donegal goal – and the party started.
There was no let up from here. Down’s challenge wilted, but Donegal kept sinking the dagger ever deeper.
McFadden swung a pair of majestic points from the right flank and it was Donegal who played with a swagger once made famous by the Mourne County in James McCartan’s playing days. McLaughlin and McElhinney stretched the lead further, but at the back Donegal never lost the focus – and Paul Durcan stepped up with another superb late save.
Durcan got down low to turn Danny Hughes’ effort round the post. Unlike his save to deny Martin Penrose against Tyrone, this time the end result wasn’t in doubt. But the sheet was kept clean once again by Durcan.
McFadden added his fifth with a free and the cheery was placed atop the cake by the St Michael’s man, who arched over a neat effort, this time with a rare point off his right boot. It was that sort of day.
By that time, the green and gold ribbons were already adorned and fans hung over the perimeter.
The Anglo-Celt was headed for the Hills again.
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Paddy McGrath, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn (1-0); Declan Walsh (0-2), Karl Lacey, Anthony Thompson; Ryan Bradley (0-2), Rory Kavanagh; David Walsh (0-1), Leo McLoone (1-0), Mark McHugh (0-2); Patrick McBrearty (0-1), Michael Murphy (0-1), Colm McFadden (0-6, 3f). Subs: Martin McElhinney (0-2) for David Walsh (half-time); Christy Toye for McLoone (44 mins); Daniel McLaughlin (0-1) for Bradley (58 mins).
Down: Brendan McVeigh; Daniel McCartan, Brendan McArdle, Darren O’Hagan; Liam Doyle (0-4, 2f), Dan Gordon, Aiden Branagan (0-1); Ambrose Rogers (0-1), Kevin McKernan (0-1); Donal O’Hare (0-2, 1f), Mark Poland, Aidan Carr; Benny Coulter, Conor Laverty (0-1), Kalum King. Subs: Eoin McCartan (0-1) for Coulter (half-time); Conor Maginn (0-1) for Carr (43 mins); Danny Hughes (0-1) for O’Hare (49 mins); Benny Coulter for McKernan (54 mins).
Referee: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).
DECLAN BONNER will look to collect the first piece of silverware from his second tenure in charge of Donegal.