Donegal 2-16 Fingal 0-8
By Gerry Maguire in Cavan
This was the stuff of real dreams as Donegal made sweet history in Breffni Park.
For the first time ever, they will be playing in Division Two B of the National Hurling League and they thoroughly deserve it.
And they did it with 14 men after outstanding wing-back Jamsie Donnelly was harshly given a red card following an incident with Fingal midfielder Ross McGarry as the teams left the field at half-time.
As ecstatic manager Ray Durack put it: “This is the day I have dreamed of ever since I took over Donegal.
“These lads have made hurling history and nobody can ever take it away from them.
“They are a credit to themselves and their county and even though it will be tough in Division Two B they certainly deserve a shot at the higher division.”
Donegal had turned over with a 1-10 to 0-6 lead after surviving a choppy start when the Fingal midfielder seemed to stamp on Donnelly’s hurl.
The MacCumhaills man then appeared to shove the Fimgal player off the ball.
It appeared a harsh decision and the Donegal crowd roared in disapproval after referee Paud O’Dwyer showed Donnelly a straight red card after consulting with his linesman.
But 14-man Donegal were not unduly worried by the disparity in numbers as they dropped Danny Cullen back to play as sweeper, and use their vastly superior fitness to make full use of the wide expanses of Breffni Park.
And the clinching score of the match came when Enda McDermott strode through the centre of the Fingal defence and flicked a picture pass to full-forward Paddy Hannigan who blasted home his second goal to the Fingal net in the 50th minute.
Donegal were a bit nervous in the opening ten minute as the usually reliable Lee Henderson was off target with three efforts.
But cometh the small crisis, cometh Setanta’s Kevin Campbell who went on to give an exhibition of free-taking and finished with a grand total of eight points from placed balls.
Fingal’s main threat came from full-forward John Matthew Sheridan and the tiny but talented Cillian O’Flynn who pushed Fingal to a 0-2 0-1 lead after seven minutes.
But it took a superb smothering effort from Tir Chonaill keeper Paul Burns to deny Sheridan a certain goal in the 14th minute.
And Donegal struck with deadly effect for the crucial score of the half when full-forward Hannigan smashed a memorable half volley to the roof of the Fingal net after he was superbly set up by the classy Campbell.
Hannigan’s goal deflated Fingal who were playing catch up thereafter.
It looked fairly ominous for Donegal when they unjustly lost the talismanic Jamsie Donnelly to that controversial red card at half time.
But Ray Durack’s men showed their real mettle by taking the game to Fingal as Danny Cullen pulled the strings in defence.
The tempo dropped considerably in the second half and once again it was a Donegal goal that decided matters.
Hannigan’s strike gave the winners a valuable cushion as they cantered to a relatively easy victory.
This was a thoroughly deserved victory for Tir Chonaill who had heroes all over the field..But Campbell, Danny Cullen, Joe Boyle,Lee Henderson and Ciaran Matthewson really stood out.
These fine ambassadors have made hurling history as Donegal will be competing in Division Two B of the NHL for the first time ever.
It is a huge step up in class but if the commitment and skill continue then they could pull off a few shocks next season.
Their next big match is the Ulster championship and the Nicky Rackard Cup also has to be retained.
But for now they can savour some sweet history.
Donegal: Paul Burns; Martin McGrath, Justin McGee, Shane Gallen; Jamesie Donnelly, Joe Boyle, Paul Sheridan; Ronan McDermott (0-1) Danny Cullen; Lee Henderson, Enda McDermott, Sean McVeigh (0-1); Kevin Campbell (0-9f) Paddy Hannigan (2-1), Ciaran Matthewson (0-4). Subs: Michael McGee for Henderson (62 mins), Ciaran Kilgannon for E McDermott (64 mins), Justin Browne for P Sheridan (69 mins)
Fingal: Craig Harford; Peter Coyne, Graham Morris, Paul Quinn; Kevin McLoughney, Enda O’Flaherty, Niall Ring; Ross McGarry, A Richardson; Dave Smyth, Danny Butterly, Paul McCallister; Colm Foley, John Matthew Sheridan (0-4, 3f), Cillian O’Flynn (0-4). Subs: Michael O’Donghue for McLoughney (28 mins), Peter Daly for Smyth (half-time), Ian Furlong for Butterly (49 mins), Johnny Downey for O’Donoghue (65 mins)
Referee: Paud O’Dwyer (Carlow)