But for the very last one in Ballybofey yesterday, Meath would’ve been packing their bags for home with the unique distinction of being the first visiting team to defeat Jim McGuinness’s Donegal at county headquarters.
Michael Murphy, though, nailed a free-kick from the acutest of angles in the second minute of stoppage time to preserve the record of his team and manager. Meath were left to wonder what might have been.
Michael Newman, who wasn’t Meath’s designated man in a late hopped ball with Neil Gallagher, couldn’t resist claiming the O’Neills and referee Padraig Hughes awarded Donegal the free. Murphy did the rest. But although downbeat, Mick O’Dowd could at least be content with a point when many predicted Meath, who conceded 4-50 in their three previous outings in Division Two, were unlikely to get anything from the table-toppers.
“It was a bit disappointing but it’s a sign of the performance we put in that we are disappointed,” he said. “I’m so proud of the players — they put in a massive effort. There were chances that Donegal had too, so overall we’re happy to get a point.”
In those climatic closing stages, Donegal, through subs David Walsh and Darach O’Connor, struck the upright, while Mark O’Sullivan passed up a huge opportunity to give Meath a two-point cushion in the last minute when his pop at goal was gathered by Paul Durcan. Meath dominated the first half, racing into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead as the locals watched on in disbelief. Donegal got going, curiously, through a Frank McGlynn goal. Were he a snooker player, McGlynn would’ve had to acknowledge it contained an element of fluke when he shot for a point, only to see it sail over Patrick O’Rourke’s head and into the top corner on 28 minutes.
That goal looked as though it would settle Donegal but Meath, just a minute later, reestablished their five-point cushion when Newman, who certainly wasn’t the villain of the piece, drilled a fine goal past Durcan after Damien Carroll’s pass. “We were a bit sluggish in the first half,” McGuinness said. “We didn’t have a good intensity but improved on that in the second half. We showed a bit of character.”
Scorers for Donegal: M Murphy (0-6, 6 frees), F McGlynn (1-0), C McFadden (0-3, 2 frees), C Toye (0-2), D Molloy (0-1).
Scorers for Meath: M Newman (1-4, 3 frees); A Tormey (0-2); S Curran, D Carroll, B McMahon, G Reilly, E Wallace (0-1 each); S O’Rourke (0-1, free).
DONEGAL: P Durcan; E McGee, N McGee, F McGlynn; A Thompson, L McLoone, R McHugh; R Kavanagh, M McElhinney; M McHugh, C Toye, O MacNiallais; C McFadden, M Murphy, D Molloy.
Subs: N Gallagher for Kavanagh (43), D O’Connor for Molloy (43), K Lacey for R McHugh (48 , black card), David Walsh for MacNiallais (58).
MEATH: P O’Rourke; M Burke, K Reilly, E Harrington; S Curran, D Keogan, D Carroll; S O’Rourke, B Menton; A Tormey, D Tobin, D McDonagh; B McMahon, S Bray, M Newman.
Subs: P Harnan for Tobin (half-time), G Reilly for Bray (half-time), S Kenny for Curran (52), E Wallace for McMahon (52), M O’Sullivan for Tormey (62), D Bray for Menton (69).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).