DONEGAL 1-12 DUBLIN 1-11
REPORT BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT CROKE PARK
THIS was a performance and a win borne out of sheer character and a refusal to accept defeat – the very ingredients Declan Bonner has instilled in this young side.
The reward for beating Dublin is an appearance in what will be Donegal’s first ever All-Ireland minor final in three weeks’ time.
Ethan O’Donnell drilled over that last, heroic score with two minutes on the clock, but the fingernails still had to endure some suffering.
Dublin had late chances, but Con O’Callaghan couldn’t find the range with a free nor could substitute Aodhán Fee with a ’45.
Donegal stood tall right when they needed to.
John Campbell’s 23rd minute goal came after Donegal had fallen four points in arrears and a spirited finish to the first half saw Bonner’s men lead by the goal, 1-6 to 0-6, at the short whistle.
Dublin turned the screw on them and it seemed as if they had got over the worst when Dublin, with 13 minutes left on the clock, pounced on one moment of weakness. Colm Basquel took a quick free with Donegal switched off and, via a knockdown by O’Callaghan, Jack Burke fired past Danny Rodgers.
Donegal battled back to get level, with the magnificent Stephen McBrearty slamming over the equaliser before O’Donnell, who’d come on for Niall Harley nine minutes into the second half, notched the winner.
There were moments when Donegal hearts were at their lips.
Just after Burke’s goal, Basquel tore in and flashed a shot inches over Rodgers’ crossbar. Just before it, corner back Danny Monagle denied Conor Kavanagh a goal with a courageous block from a blistering shot.
Donegal’s defence, backed by a lot of funnelling-back bodies, was excellent bar that madcap concession of the goal in the 47th minute.
At full-back Ciarán Gillespie was McGee-esque for long periods while Cian Mulligan continued his good form and added two points from number seven, but it was McBrearty who conjured the magical moments.
When Chris Sallier burst across the end-line to fist over for a 0-5 to 0-1 lead in the 21st minute Donegal looked in trouble, but Bonner’s side staged a barnstorming finish to the opening period, hitting 1-5 in a lively final seven minutes.
The dam broke in the 23rd minute when Tony McClenaghan lobbed an inviting ball on top of the Dublin goalkeeper, Eiven Whelan, and big John Campbell climbed highest to bat low into the bottm corner of the net.
The goal was just the tonic for Donegal and the reaction from the stands and on the field was telling.
Campbell himself was invigorated and the Buncrana man spun over two points in the next two minutes to put Donegal ahead for the first time. The momentum was now with Donegal and Lorcan Connor neatly steadied onto his right boot to double the lead.
Sallier pulled one back for the Dubs, but Cian Mulligan swept over the score of the half, a majestic, curling effort from the shadows of the Hogan Stand.
The Gaoth Dobhair man was Man of the Match in the quarter-final and it was a further illustration of the lead role he is capable of playing.
Michael Carroll’s strong drive teed up Stephen McBrearty to put Donegal 1-6 to 0-6 in front at the break, but their seven wides and three attempts kicked short meant that their lead ought to have been greater.
Eoghan Ban Gallagher agonisingly had to sit out because of a hamstring injury sustained in the aftermath of the tense quarter-final win over Roscommon in Sligo. Stephen McMenamin came in to take the half-back sentry while Niall Friel was elevated into the starting XV in place of Andrew McClean.
Donegal saw plenty of the ball early on and their play was fine up to their conversion, with six of those misses coming inside the first sixteen minutes.
Burke and Aaron Byrne popped over early scores, either side of Donegal’s opening point, landed by Connor from a 13-metre free.
Donegal kicked four wides in a row and Dublin kept edging away. Conor Kavanagh whistled over when he had the slightest of sniffs of a goal chance. Con O’Callaghan and Sallier put Dublin four up before Campbell sneaked in to throw a spanner in the works.
Dublin posed questions when Aaron Byrne and O’Callahan hit points at the outset of part two, but with Donegal responding through Mulligan and then McBrearty – firing over a stylish point off the outside of his right peg – the Tir Chonaill men had the answers.
Hill 16 thundered when Burke slotted home their goal, but Donegal’s desire proved to be enough and Bonner’s boys are back on the hallowed sod on September 21. The manager’s euphoric reaction told the tale – the dream lives on.
DUBLIN: Eiven Whelan; Eoin Murchan, Jack Mullins, Declan Monahan; Andrew McGowan, Shane Clayton, Glenn O’Reilly; Andrew Foley, Eoghan McHugh (0-1); Conor Kavanagh (0-1), Colm Basquel (0-1), Jack Burke (1-1); Aaron Byrne (0-1), Con O’Callaghan (0-4, 2f), Chris Sallier (0-2).
Subs: Brian Howard for Kavanagh (49 mins), Donal McIlgorm for Foley (55 mins), Warren Egan for Byrne (56 mins), Aodhán Fee for McGowan (59 mins).
DONEGAL: Danny Rodgers; Danny Monagle, Ciarán Gillespie, Colm Kelly; Stephen McMenamin, Tony McClenaghan, Cian Mulligan (0-2); Niall Harley, Caolán McGonigle; Stephen McBrearty (0-4), Lorcan Connor (0-3, 2f), Michael Carroll; Jamie Brennan, John Campbell (1-2), Niall Friel.
Subs: Conor Morrison for Friel (black card, 35 mins), Ethan O’Donnell (0-1) for Harley (39 mins), Gavin McBride for Brennan (47 mins), Conor Doherty for Campbell (54 mins), Christian Bonner for Kelly (58 mins).
REFEREE: Derek O’Mahoney (Tipperary).