Donegal 1-19 Louth 3-07
Report by Chris McNulty at Fr Tierney Park
BY the end, there was a strange feeling of relief on an afternoon where Donegal really ought to have had a much bigger margin of victory.
The scoreline and a six-point win merely scratches the surface of the narrative of this, a game Donegal had seemed to have in the bag well before the second half, but one in which they needed a 57th minute goal from David Walsh to enable themselves some breathing space again.
Substitute Walsh netted just after a purple patch from Louth saw them punish Donegal as Paddy Keenan and Brian White netted goals. When White slotted home, barely a minute after midfielder Keenan score his second major of the day, the margin was down to only three points.
Suddenly, there were very real fears of a capitulation, but Walsh fired to the net after good approach work by Ryan McHugh and Dermot Molloy, who passed a late fitness test to start the game.
Donegal were well in command of things until that period where Louth blasted away the deficit.
It won’t have been the concession so much as the manner of them that will have concerned Jim McGuinness and company.
When White, who ended the day with 1-3, slotted over a free in the 54th minute, Donegal led handsomely 0-16 to 1-4.
However, Paul Durcan’s subsequent kick-out was punted into the hands of Adrian Reid and after he made the telling incision into Donegal’s skin, it was Keenan who applied the finishing touch.
Rocked already, Donegal could hardly believe what was happening when White found himself with a chance and he made no mistake as the Wee County side took full advantage of the gaping holes in the Tir Chonaill rearguard.
Just when it seemed as if an upset of epic proportions was on the cards, Walsh stepped up to calm the nerves. His finish was crisp and decisive, it’s meaning particularly important to the end game of not just this but perhaps the final placings in a League where the teams head for the final day of action with little to separate them.
Colm McFadden took his tally to seven points with a pair of late scores and Michael Murphy added a brilliant effort, although a trio from Shane Lennon kept the Louth tally ticking.
And there was time for them to punch another notch in Donegal’s cloth, as Declan Byrne got in for another goal chance, but his goal-bound shot was bravely blocked by Mark McHugh.
The day had started off routinely for Donegal, who were without the injured Frank McGlynn, while Martin McElhinney was deemed unfit to start having reported feeling ill overnight.
Needing a win to bolster their promotion hopes after disappointing results against Meath and Down, Donegal got off to almost the perfect start.
McFadden and Declan Walsh posted Donegal into an early lead before Brian White fired over a Louth free, for what was their only score in the opening 32 minutes.
As inspired as Donegal might have been, Louth were every bit as insipid and the visitors had the look of a side that had already given up the ghost in terms of survival for they were an outfit that
Donegal reeled off eleven points in a row as the afternoon seemed to be evolving into a procession.
McFadden, Murphy, Molloy and Toye were among the scorers, while the ever-efficient Anthony Thompson got in on the act and the excellent Rory Kavangh notched a pair of fine scores to cap an influential display at centerfield.
Just before half-time, the Louth supporters managed to get something cheer when the Wee County bagged a goal, though it was one brought about not by their own design, but a moment that Donegal will look back on with regret.
Declan Byrne’s shot from distance dropped on the edge of the square. Shane Lennon contested the aerial duel with Paul Durcan and when the Donegal ‘keeper could only palm the ball down midfielder Paddy Keenan riffled to the net.
By that stage, though, the game had seemed long gone as a contest. Certainly, there were few around Ballyshannon who could have foretold the sequence of events in what was something of a mad-cap second half.
Louth had lost both Dessie Finnegan and Colm Judge to black cards and looked for a time as if they were set to throw in the towel, but they got back into it and ensured there were no early-leavers as they made for a difficult ending for the hosts.
Donegal had began the second half brightly with Toye, Murphy and McFadden clipping them eleven in front, only for events to take a strange turn and leave the fingernails a little shorter.
Although there were positives in the twenty scores posted and the performances of the likes of Kavanagh, Thompson, Toye and McFadden, the manner in which the goals were leaked is a point of concern, one that McGuinness insisted will be top of his list this week.
He said: “We will have to look at the goals and how they originated. They could have been prevented.”
Still, his side have destiny in their palms and this result inches them closer to Division 2, but Louth have now fallen down the trapdoor and will play in Division 3 next year.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Karl Lacey; Declan Walsh (0-1), Leo McLoone, Anthony Thompson (0-1); Rory Kavanagh (0-2), Christy Toye (0-3); Mark McHugh, Dermot Molloy (0-1), Odhrán MacNiallais; Colm McFadden (0-7, 5f), Michael Murphy (0-4, 3f), Patrick McBrearty. Subs: Ryan McHugh for Lacey (half-time), David Walsh (1-0) for McBrearty (53 mins), Gary McFadden for Kavanagh (68 mins), Luke Keaney for Thompson (70 mins).
LOUTH: Neil Gallagher; Padraig Rath, Dessie Finnegan, John O’Brien; Gary O’Hare, Derek Crilly, Adrian Reid; Paddy Keenan (2-0), Brian Donnelly; Patrick Reilly, Brian White (1-3, 2f, 1 ’45), Stephen Campbell; Andy McDonnell, Eoin O’Connor, Shane Lennon (0-3, 2f). Subs: Darren O’Hanlon for Finnegan (4 mins, black card), Colm Judge for Campbell (22 mins), Bevan Duffy (0-1) for O’Connor (30 mins, black card), Declan Byrne for Judge (31 mins), Liam Shevlin for Reilly (49 mins), Darren Clarke for Donnelly (64 mins).
REFEREE: Martin Higgins (Fermanagh).