FROM CHRIS MCNULTY IN TRALEE
THAT line of Rory Gallagher’s in January, when he predicted a ‘cut throat’ Division 1, has certainly come to pass.
Gallagher’s Donegal lost out to Kerry before an enthusiastic 6,215 at Austin Stack Park yesterday, the Kingdom just prevailing 2-13 to 2-11.
A terse contest, a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, was played out with the sounds of summer reverberating around the old ground at times when the burdens from September were clear.
Bryan Sheehan’s six first-half points had Kerry 0-9 to 1-5 in front at the break, with Ryan McHugh goaling for Donegal.
Second-half majors from Barry John Keane and David Moran, the Man of the Match who netted from a 65th minute penalty, gave Kerry the win, even if they were left clinging with the very lunulas of their fingers as Michael Murphy converted a penalty for the visitors.
It means that Donegal now face a crunch meeting with Tyrone in two weeks time with an Easter Sunday visit to Mayo a week later. It has been a topsy-turvy Division so far with just four points separating seven of the eight teams.
Derry seem bound for Division 2, but Donegal are among those not out of the woods just yet.
“I think it’ll take seven points to be guaranteed safety this year,” mused Gallagher in Tralee.
“If that’s the challenge now we need three points from our last two games, but we’ll think about Tyrone first. There’s always pressure playing Tyrone – you never like to lose against Tyrone.”
Defeat here means that Donegal’s poor away record in Division 1 continues. You have to go all the way back to March 29 2009 and a win over Westmeath in Mullingar for the last top-flight win on the travels.
It is now just two wins from their last 16 away games in the division, but Murphy, the Donegal captain, hopes his side can preserve their status on the top rung.
“We want to secure the place in Division 1 so we’ll have to get something out of the games,” the Glenswilly man said.
“The aim over the next two weeks will be to push on again, work hard on the training ground and get ready for the game.”
Donegal’s performance was much improved from seven days earlier in the loss to Monaghan in Letterkenny, while there was a big milestone marked by Colm McFadden, who came on to make what was a record-equalling 159th game for Donegal.
In appearing at half-time, as a replacement for Martin McElhinney, McFadden equalled Brian Roper’s record.
Frank McGlynn and Odhrán MacNiallais were unable to start having been named in the starting line-up on Thursday night. McGlynn was hit by a stomach bug while an ankle injury kept MacNiallais sidelined.
The Donegal All-County League gets underway this weekend and then it’s all systems go for Tyrone in Ballybofey on March 29.