DONEGAL 0-12 DOWN 0-07
BY CHRIS MCNULTY IN BALLYBOFEY
DONEGAL got 2013 up and running when they came from behind to bag a five-point win over Down in Ballybofey.
Neil Gallagher came on at half-time for his 100th Donegal appearance and helped change the game in his side’s favour on a night when Ryan McHugh made his senior Donegal debut and Ross Wherity gave an encouraging display.
Donegal had struggled again to win the primary possession in the opening 35 minutes – after which they were a point down, 0-5 to 0-4 – but when Gallagher ran through the tunnel for the second half Donegal were a changed unit.
Gallagher was a calming influence on Donegal who were much more economical with possession in the second half than they had been in a first half in which they kicked seven wides.
“There was nothing new said at half-time in relation to what we wanted to do in the second half,” insisted Jim McGuinness, the Donegal manager.
“We created a lot of chances in the first half, with maybe two or three goals chances, but we had a lot of wides and dropped a few short.
“We made some good incisions and were getting good ball into Michael so we were happy enough with the chances we created. We wouldn’t have been happy at all with how we were going about finishing them.
“We spoke at half time about continuing to do what we’d do in the hope and belief that things would come right for us. We kicked eight points in the second half so that was good pegging by the boys.”
Michael Cunningham, the Down goalkeeper, saved his side with a strong eight-minute save that thwarted Neil McGee, the Donegal full-back who ghosted up to get on the end of a superb flowing move by the home side.
For all of Donegal’s early territorial supremacy, they miscued a number of good openings and hit just two points in the opening 35 minutes – only for stoppage time frees by McFadden and Murphy to pull them to within a point at the interval.
Murphy and O’Hare swapped frees in the first seven minutes and O’Hare levelled the scores again when he slotted over after a fine point from by Ross Wherity briefly regained the lead for Donegal.
Down hit the front for the first time in the 24th minute when O’Hare curled over his third free of the night after a cheaply conceded foul by Mark McHugh on Conor Laverty and Kevin McKernan boomed over a 45-metre free to put the Mournes ahead by two.
Down had to wait until the 32nd minute for their first score from play, but they went three in front thanks to a splendid O’Hare score.
McFadden and Murphy knocked over frees late in the half. It was level pegging when Murphy stroked over after fetching a ball in from McHugh the younger, who was growing in confidence by now.
After Leo McLoone screwed a goal opportunity across the face of goal, Donegal hit the front as Rory Kavanagh landed the score of the game, a superb effort from the stand side that raised the roof.
Neil McGee intervened with a timely interception to deny the advances of Paul McComiskey, with Down contesting for a penalty, but the well-placed Marty Duffy was having none of it.
McLoone and a brace of Murphy frees put Donegal five up and McGee again stepped in with yet another intervention, this time to reel in the hopes of O’Hare as he sped in.
Murphy fisted over after nice build-up work from Mark McHugh and Wherity while Declan Walsh hit Donegal’s ninth score in a row 13 minutes from time.
O’Hare ended a 32-minute barren spell for Down, but it was too little, too late, even when McKiernan popped over as Daniel McLaughlin, the substitute, tucked over Donegal’s final point to earn the win.
For Down, it was yet more frustration and a second defeat in two League games for James McCartan.
“That’s the second week in a row that we’ve had a really positive first half and haven’t built on it,” lamented the Down manager.
“It’s disappointing. Donegal got nine in a row and in the last ten minutes we had a couple of goal chances that could have made things interesting had they gone in.”
Donegal: Paul Durcan; Declan Walsh (0-1), Neil McGee, Eamon McGee; Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone (0-1), Ryan McHugh; Rory Kavanagh (0-1), Martin McElhinney; Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy (0-6, 4f), Ryan Bradley; Colm McFadden (0-1, 1f), Ross Wherity (0-1), Patrick McBrearty. Subs: Neil Gallagher for McElhinney (half-time), Dermot Molloy for McBrearty (54 mins), Daniel McLaughlin (0-1) for McFadden (62 mins), Odhrán MacNiallais for N.McGee (70 mins).
Down: Michael Cunningham; Damian Turley, Daniel McCartan, Ryan Boyle; Ryan Mallon, Aidan Carr, Brendan McArdle; Kalum King, Kevin McKernan (0-2, 1f); Keith Quinn, Mark Poland, Paul McComiskey; Conor Laverty, Connaire Harrison, Donal O’Hare (0-5, 3f). Subs: Peter Turley for McArdle (half-time), Benny Coulter for Harrison (48 mins), Declan Rooney for Mallon (49 mins), Danny Savage for D Turley (56 mins), Conor Gough for King (57 mins).
Referee: Marty Duffy (Sligo).