DONEGAL 3-14 DUBLIN 0-17
REPORT BY CHRIS MCNULTY AT CROKE PARK
DONEGAL not only beat the team they said couldn’t be beaten – they did it with a style and substance that ranks this among the greatest days in the county’s history.
Yes, it was that good.
Dublin, remember, were 1/10 favourites after swatting aside all before them this summer, but the champions were humbled as Donegal reached their second All-Ireland final in three years, making light work of their 7/1 odds in the process.
It took guts and goals – and Donegal delivered one of their most devastating displays. In scoring 3-14, they hit their second highest total in Championship football under Jim McGuinness, bettered only by the 3-16 against Antrim in this year’s Ulster semi-final.
Man of the Match Ryan McHugh netted a goal in each half and Colm McFadden returned to form with a fine third goal eleven minutes into the second half to set Donegal on the road to a six-point win that was in no way flattering to the euphoric Tir Chonaill support, whose outpouring of elation at the end was quite something.
Dublin had led by five points on two occasions in a first half that had threatened to inch a little too far away from Donegal at a time, but the Ulster champions showed magnificent belied to weather the storm.
Donegal scored 2-3 in the third quarter, their traditional time to shine, but it was in the second quarter that they found the potions to win this one.
They were 0-7 to 0-2 in arrears by the 19th minute, but they turned that on its head to go into the break 1-8 to 0-10 in front. Christy Toye’s introduction to the fray on 27 minutes proved crucial as Donegal hit 1-4 after the veteran St Michael’s man came on to appear in his fourth All-Ireland semi-final.
In that period, Paul Durcan also made a crucial save to deny Diarmuid Connolly a goal, the big ‘keeper getting down to foil Connolly at a time when Dublin threatened to move into that swashbuckling mode that had given them an invincible aura.
They kicked some superb long-range scores in that early spell, with Paul Flynn, in particular, orchestrating matters, and aided by Connolly, Bernard Brogan and Philip McMahon, who were all on target.
Donegal managed just two points in the opening twenty minutes, an early Michael Murphy free and a second clipped over by Karl Lacey. Donegal had again thrown a decoy team into the programme and the surprise selection here was David Walsh, named for his first Championship start of the year.
Murphy started around the middle of the field, but the first time the Glenswilly giant went on top of Stephen Cluxton, Donegal struck gold.
Murphy (free) and Rory Kavanagh had kept Donegal in it, but the Dubs – with Alan Brogan and Connolly on the mark – were 0-9 to 0-4 ahead when Toye was summonsed. His first involvement was to set up McHugh for a score and Donegal made it three-in-a-row with Murphy slamming over and Odhrán MacNiallais sweetly finishing.
With just two points in it, Donegal had Dublin right where they wanted and they got the major they craved in the 33rd minute. Murphy, on his first venture to Cluxton’s territory, helped break the ball for McFadden and he off-loaded to McHugh, who finished for his first goal for the Donegal seniors.
McFadden and Flynn traded points; the capacity attendance drew breath and Donegal were ahead, 1-8 to 0-10.
McGuinness sat his players down in the Hogan Stand dressing room and asked them two questions: ‘Do you believe in yourself?’; ‘Do you believe in your team-mates?’
He got his answer.
Having survived when Dublin knocked on the door in the first half, Durcan making that save from Connolly and an earlier effort having been salvaged by Neil McGee, Donegal broke for a second goal just four minutes into the second half.
Anthony Thompson refused to yield and it was his endeavour that ultimately set up goal number two. Eamon McGee set him away on one of his trademark runs and when he broke the gain line McHugh was in space, unmarked and with only Cluxton to beat. Thompson’s pass across was perfect and McHugh swept home with his hand from close range.
By now the doubts came in. Cluxton steered a free off target; Bernard Brogan put a routine free wide and Eoghan O’Gara drilled wide before being called ashore two minutes later.
Before sideline official Ciaran Brannigan had O’Gara’s number 14 punched onto the electronic board, Donegal had a third goal.
Gallagher and MacNiallais were the architects and McFadden the finisher. McFadden side-stepped Cluxton and neatly fired home to open up an eight-point lead.
Frank McGlynn and Patrick McBrearty were in on the act, with McBrearty’s electric pace causing Dublin problems, the Kilcar man setting up the scampering McGlynn and he added two more himself later in the game.
Donegal might have had more goals, but Cluxton got the tips of his gloves to a blistering McHugh effort to deny the Kilcar man his hat-trick. A point did just fine.
Paddy Andrews pointed with a hopeful punt and Connolly added another, but even with Neil McGee black carded in the 58th minute the defending All-Ireland champions didn’t seriously breach Donegal. Jim Gavin’s side were well and truly out-thought and out-foxed.
The terrorising Kevin McManamon was in and posed problems, but Donegal held firm. When McBrearty brilliant sailed over with ten minutes to go the inevitability was there, but not in a manner predicted by the majority.
Dublin kicked four wides on the spin with McManamon, Bernard Brogan, Connolly and Michael Darragh Macauley – who simply wasn’t allowed to have a say in the game – all off cue. McManamon prodded a last-ditch goal chance wide as Donegal kept a clean sheet for the 16th time in 23 Championship games under the maestro McGuinness.
For many, this was a crowning moment even it was only the penultimate fence cleared.
Donegal are now just seventy minutes from Sam Maguire again.
DUBLIN: Stephen Cluxton; Michael Fitzsimons, Rory O’Carroll, Philip McMahon (0-1); James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Jack McCaffrey; Michael Darragh Macauley, Cian O’Sullivan; Paul Flynn (0-4), Cormac Costello, Diarmuid Connolly (0-5, 1f); Alan Brogan (0-2), Eoghan O’Gara, Bernard Brogan (0-3, 1f)
Subs: Nicky Devereux for McCaffrey (half-time), Kevin McManamon for Costello (41 mins), Dean Rock for O’Gara (48 mins), Paddy Andrews (0-2) for A.Brogan (53 mins), Darren Daly for Cooper (62 mins), Paul Mannion for O’Sullivan (68 mins).
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath; Anthony Thompson, Karl Lacey (0-1), Frank McGlynn (0-1); Neil Gallagher, Michael Murphy (0-3, 2f); David Walsh, Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh (2-2); Odhrán MacNiallais (0-1), Colm McFadden (1-3, 2f), Rory Kavanagh (0-1).
Subs: Christy Toye for Walsh (27 mins), Patrick McBrearty (0-2) for McLoone (43 mins), Martin McElhinney for Kavanagh (60 mins), Darach O’Connor for McFadden (64 mins), Martin O’Reilly for MacNiallais (70 mins).
REFEREE: Joe McQuillan (Cavan).