Allianz Football League Division One.
Donegal 0-12 Down 0-7
IT was never going to be an easy match for Down after losing out to Tyrone last week by three points. Division One team Down with no points on the table were facing Ulster champions Donegal equally with no points after their defeat in the hands of Kildare the previous week at 2-14 to 1-13.
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has said that he wants six points to stay in Division One and there was no doubt last night that Down were on the chopping block. With Donegal facing tough away marches to Tyrone, Cork and Mayo, home points were crucial and Donegal saw this as a critical opportunity.
For James Macartan’s Down squad facing possible relegation, toppling the Donegal mountain men was going to be a tall order. In the tussle with Tyrone last week, Macartan’s players should have won handsomely having taken the first half but were trounced in the second half having 0-7 to 0-3 and being beat 1-11 to 1-8. And fate repeated it’s deadly hand once again in Ballybofey as Down were on top in the first half and could not rise to the occasion in the second half.
Down too had an advantage over Donegal in that they had less injuries. With last year’s Down captain Ambrose Rogers out with knee surgery and Danny Hughes with a back injury, and stalwart Dan Gordon off with an injured foot, Down did face a difficulty in losing key players. But Donegal had Karl Lacy , Frank McGlynn, Colm McFadden, David Walsh, Christy Toye, and others off with injury or illness.
Donegal have their eye on the Championship matches and the League is really a side show for them to bring on their best players in the squad. Donegal aim to get themselves on form in the League giving their younger players a run out, and going forward with the strongest team.
There was an excellent crowd of around 10,000 in attendance and the condition were excellent with no sign of rain. Down were early on the attack with Conor Laverty crossing an excellent ball to Keith Quinn who almost knocked in a quick goal but was blocked. Mark Poland then shot wide but by then Donegal had started to fight back but it was Laverty who battled through the Donegal defence and won a free with Down’s Donal O’Hare converting to put them on the scorecard.
But Donegal pressed forward with driving attacks down the middle with good passing skills and started to worry the Down defence. Donegal captain Murphy sent a free wide, and both teams were struggling to score for the next 13 minutes. A good move from Kavanagh, McElhinney to sriker Wherity saw Donegal take an other point in play. Both teams were playing fats attacking football. But it was down who managed to draw even with a free taken by Down’s O’Hare after Brendan McArdle was brought down.
Mark Poland then pointed. He was playing a good game for Down in his centre half back position spreading the ball around. Again it was McArdle who was felled and Kevin McKernin stepped up to claim the point putting Down in the lead.
At this stage Donegal had gone 19 minutes without scoring a point. A quick reply from right wing forward McFadden almost put Donegal back into the saddle but his close goal effort was blocked well by Down keeper Michael Cunningham.
Just before the half time whistle Down had two opportunities to take further points but failed. This would have have made the task for Donegal that much more harder in the second half. Every point counts at this level. Donegal’s Mick Murphy grabbed a crucial point for his side and it was all to play for in the second half.
Donegal captain Murphy was having a solid game against Down but Damien Turley for Down was giving his all in close marking him and doing a fairly good job against such a tight opponent.
Whatever Jim McGuinness said to his team in the dressing room worked as it was a different Donegal that came onto the pitch in the second half. Their fear of failure at the hands of Down had dissipated to be replaced by more focused teamwork and a determination to win. The key player for Donegal was no doubt their captain Murphy who took seven points in the match against Kildare the previous week and now he was on a roll leading his side from the front.
James Macartan replaced Connaire Harrison with Benny Coulter to lift his team but it was going to be an uphill struggle.
Down too tried to raise their game with Laverty, Poland and Paul McComiskey involved in one fine move but Donegal’s Keith Quinn stretched the lead now to two points and the clock was ticking. Two further points were taken by Murphy, one from play, and Donegal’s McBrearty broke through and almost scored a goal again Cunningham stepping into the breech and blocking the shot. Walsh then scored another for Donegal leaving Down reeling as the home side stepped up the pressure smelling blood.
On the 3oth second half minute O’Hare pointed for Down but the gap was too much to close and Down lumbered on under duress from Murphy piling on the agony with another point.
A fine bit of play by Down saw O’Hare almost scoring a goal but defender McGee’s intervention gave away a 45-yard free which Down failed to convert. Down were trailing by five points and Donegal were not easing the pressure.
In the closing minutes Down rallied and had two shots at the Donegal posts and went wide on both occasions. Despite the early first half lead and playing solid football, it was Donegal that carved out the winning score leaving Macartan’s men staring at possible relegation unless they find the winning spirit in their remaining league matches in a very tough league. Down do have the skills and the players, but their focus seems lacking and their second half performances needs to be as good as their first.
Down: Michael Cunningham, Damian Turley, Daniel Macartan, Ryan Boyle, Ryan Mallon, Aidan Carr, Brendan McArdle,Kalum King, Kevin, McKernan, Keith Quinn, Mark Poland, Paul McComiskey, Conor Laverty, Connaire Harrison, and Donal O’Hare. (Subs: Peter Turley for Brendan McArdle, Benny Coulter for Connaire Harrison, Declan Rooney for Ryan Mallon, Conor Gough for Kalum King.)
Donegal – Paul Durcan; Declan Walsh, Neil McGee, Eamonn McGee; Anthony Thompson, Leo McLoone , Ryan McHugh; Rory Kavanagh, Martin McElhinney; Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy, Ryan Bradley; Colm McFadden, Ross Wherity, Patrick McBrearty. Subs: Neil Gallagher for McElhinney, Dermot Molloy for McBrearty, Daniel McLaughlin for McFadden, Odhran MacNiallais for N McGee.