Donegal 1-12 Meath 1-12
Report by Chris McNulty at Sean MacCumhaill Park
MICHAEL Murphy snatched a last-gasp equaliser for Donegal to preserve their unbeaten League run and deny dogged Meath a win.
The Royals led deep in injury time when Murphy was presented with a chance after Michael Newman encroached to take possession of a throw-up. Murphy, firmly in the shadows of the bulging stand close to the left touchline on the 20-metre line, lined the crosshairs to near perfection and planted his arrow into the bullseye.
It was the game’s final kick, a nerveless moment from the skipper that secured a point for Donegal on a day when they were off colour for long spells.
That said, Donegal could still have won the game as it was they who had the better chances in the second half.
Frank McGlynn goaled in the 28th minute, a cheeky chip or fluky finish depending on your viewpoint, to haul Donegal back into the contest after Meath had stormed from the traps.
Within a minute, Newman rolled home at the other end and it was the Mick O’Dowd’s team who led by two points, 1-7 to 1-5, at the changeover, a scoreline Donegal would’ve been grateful for, given that they’d played second fiddle for long spells.
With the introduction of Neil Gallagher came a more settled Donegal midfield and with Christy Toye foraging well, the hosts managed to work their way back into it, although Shane O’Rourke and Bryan Menton had been on top for long enough to ensure Meath wouldn’t be making it a cakewalk for Jim McGuinness’s side.
When Durcan popped a kick-out into Murphy’s chest fifteen minutes in, it was the first time in ten attempts that Donegal took primary possesion from a kick-out as Meath, with Shane O’Rourke on top, dominated around the middle early on.
In between Donegal’s opening two scores, both from Murphy frees, Meath reeled off six of their own to take a surprise command of things.
Andrew Tormey got them off and running when a long punt into the danger zone, bounced on the turf to loop over the bar for a poing. Newman knocked over a free before Damien Carroll cut through to score.
When Donncha Tobin teed up Sean Curran for an eleventh-minute score there was a danger that this one was running away from Donegal, a notion that heightened when Tormey and Newman – with a splendid free out on the right flank – hit two in the space of a minute.
Finally, Donegal’s gears clicked and the hosts hit 1-4 in the final 13 minutes of the opening period.
Murphy tapped over a free, awarded after ref’ Padraig Hughes played a good advantage to allow Rory Kavanagh get a shot in after the St Eunan’s man powered through.
Kavanagh was denied by a block from Micky Burke, but the play was pulled back to enable Murphy to convert.
After the McHugh brothers spread the width of the play, the marauding McGlynn played a clever give-and-go with Martin McElhinney to put him in the clear.
The off-position Paddy O’Rourke could only watch in horror as McGlynn’s effort, when he appeared to be aiming for a poing, dropped over the Skryne man and into the far corner of the net.
Meath didn’t blink and a sweeping team move from the Leinster men concluded with Carroll feeding Newman, who tucked home past Durcan.
Although Dermot Molloy, Toye and Murphy were on target, Donegal were two in arrears at the interval and it was Meath who had the more profitable beginning to the second half.
After Newman registered a free, Durcan’s kick-out was into the hands of Brian McMahon, who promptly fired over.
Donegal shook the sleep from their heads with McFadden and Murphy getting back those two scores before an excellent Toye interception led to a move that gave McFadden the opportunity to make it a one-point gamne; a chance the St Michael’s man took.
Donegal lost Ryan McHugh to a black card in the 48th minute, the in-form Kilcar man walking for a foul on Graham Reilly.
Toye started and ended a move to get Donegal onto an even keel in the 51st minute, but by that juncture Tir Chonaill really ought to have been in front.
A well-worked passage should have yielded a goal when Toye burst onto the ball and drove at the heart of Meath. Toye squared for McGlynn, who on reflection might have had a go himself.
The 2012 All-Star off-loaded to Murphy, whose shot was off target.
Sixteen minutes from the end Donegal hit the front for only the second time, McFadden keeping his cool from 40metres.
Meath smelt blood, though, and former Under-19 champion sprinter Eamon Wallace and Newman restored the advantage for the visitors.
Murphy restored parity again and, after Graham Reilly looked to have won it another time, it was left to Murphy to save the day.
In those late moments, Donegal could have eked a win. David Walsh, making his return from injury, might well have had a go for goal, but drilled against an upright and young Darach O’Connor saw another come off the woodwork.
The get-out-of-jail card was still live, though and, with the pressure cooker’s heat cranked to its maximum, Murphy rolled the dice as only he can to preserve Donegal’s position at the top of the tree ahead of next Sunday’s trip to Newry for a date with James McCartan and Down.
DONEGAL: Paul Durcan; Eamon McGee, Neil McGee, Frank McGlynn (1-0); Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone, Ryan McHugh; Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney; Mark McHugh, Christy Toye (0-2), Odhrán MacNiallais; Colm McFadden (0-3, 2f), Michael Murphy (0-6, 6f), Dermot Molloy (0-1).
Subs: Neil Gallagher for Kavanagh (43 mins), Darach O’Connor for Molloy (43 mins), Karl Lacey for R.McHugh (48 mins, black card), David Walsh for MacNiallais (58 mins).
MEATH: Patrick O’Rourke; Mickey Burke, Kevin Reilly, Eoghan Harrington; Sean Curran (0-1), Donal Keogan, Damien Carroll (0-1); Shane O’Rourke (0-1, 1f), Bryan Menton; Andrew Tormey (0-2), Donncha Tobin, Dalton McDonagh; Brian McMahon (0-1), Stephen Bray, Michael Newman (1-4, 3f).
Subs: Padraic Harnan for Tobin (half-time), Graham Reilly (0-1) for Bray (half-time), Seamus Kenny for Curran (52 mins), Eamon Wallace (0-1) for McMahon (52 mins), Mark O’Sullivan for Tormey (62 mins), David Bray for Menton (69 mins).
REFEREE: Padraig Hughes (Armagh).