Donegal 2-18 Down 0-13
Donegal have made history at St Tiernach’s Park, where they retained the Ulster SFC title for the first time, and in doing so shortened their odds as All-Ireland contenders.
This was another hugely impressive performance from the men from the north-west, whose much-maligned defensive approach has evolved into a wonderfully effective attacking strategy.
On a day that they racked up an impressive 2-18 scoreline, Jim McGuinness’ side made a compelling case in favour of their brand of football and its proven effectiveness.
Down had no answer to the power and pace of Donegal’s counter-attacks in the second half, after turning around just a point in arrears at the break.
Goals from Leo McLoone and Frank McGlynn laid the foundation for what was in the end a resounding victory.
Donegal took the lead through Ryan Bradley, and held on to the advantage for most of the opening quarter.
Paddy McBrearty cancelled out Liam Doyle’s converted free, but the Mourne men went level again on 14 minutes when Mark Poland cleverly created the opening for Donal O’Hare to blast over, when with a little more composure he might have had a goal.
Down went for scores from distance in an attempt to negate Donegal’s massed defence, but were unable to find the accuracy required.
Nevertheless, they did go in front for the first time through Liam Doyle in the 24th minute.
However, gaps began to appear in their defence, which Donegal were able to exploit with lightning fast counter-attacks.
Anthony Thompson blazed wide with the goal at his mercy, after being released by Rory Kavanagh, but in the 32nd minute they did hit the net.
Leo McLoone lost his marker to pop up in acres of space, collecting Ryan Bradley’s quickly taken free to beat Brendan McVeigh with a low finish.
Down responded with points from Ambrose Rogers and Doyle to go back in front, but the reigning champions took a 1-5 to 0-7 lead into the break after Declan Walsh had pushed up to claim a couple of scores.
The loss through injury of Benny Coulter, who failed to appear for the second half, was a huge blow to Down, who soon found themselves three point adrift, after Donegal hit breakaway scores through Mark McHugh and Michael Murphy.
Now with the wind in their backs, and midfield supremacy through Bradley and Kavanagh, Donegal began to move with purpose, turning over ball at the back and breaking at pace, with McHugh particularly effective.
Christy Toye and Martin McElhinney came off the bench to make a big impact as the men from the north-west stamped their authority on the contest.
Colm McFadden landed two trademark points, and Murphy provided the assist for Frank McGlynn to drill home Donegal’s second goal in the 51st minute.
Even Coulter’s reappearance could not spark a Mourne revival, with Paul Durcan saving superbly from Danny Hughes.
And as McElhinney became the 12th Donegal player to score, the game ended as a contest long before the final whistle.
L McLoone, F McGlynn 1-0 each, C McFadden 0-6 (3f), Declan Walsh, R Bradley, M McHugh, M McElhinney 0-2 each, David Walsh, D McLaughlin, P McBrearty, M Murphy 0-1 each.
L Doyle 0-4 (2f), D O’Hare 0-2 (1f), C Laverty, A Rogers, K McKernan, A Brannigan, C Maginn, D Hughes, E McCartan 0-1 each
Donegal: P Durcan, P McGrath, N McGee, F McGlynn, Declan Walsh, K Lacey, A Thompson, R Bradley, R Kavanagh, David Walsh, L McLoone, M McHugh, P McBrearty, M Murphy, C McFadden.
Subs: M McElhinney for David Walsh, C Toye for McLoone, D McLaughlin for Bradley
Down: B McVeigh, D McCartan, D Gordon, D O’Hagan, A Brannigan, B McArdle, A Carr, A Rogers, K King, D O’Hare, K McKernan, L Doyle, M Poland, B Coulter, C Laverty.
Subs: E McCartan for Coulter, C Maginn for Carr, D Hughes for O’Hare, Coulter for McKernan
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)