We’re sure we heard a few Donegal supporters in Navan singing ‘Can we play you every week?’
The GAA’s groundhog day fixture — Donegal and Meath met three times last year — produced a familiar outcome with the manner of Donegal’s win also following a well rehearsed pattern.
For the fourth time in exactly a year, the back to back Ulster champions came from behind to beat Meath.
Apparently taking the pulse of the game initially, or perhaps still stunned from Mayo’s 78th-minute equalising goal the previous weekend, Donegal fell three points behind before suddenly finding rude health and blitzing Meath with a burst of goalscoring.
Majors from Odhran McFadden Ferry, Michael Murphy, who top-scored with 1-2, and the excellent Michael Langan in the minutes either side of half-time broke Meath’s brittle challenge.
Donegal trailed at various stages of last year’s three games too — they were 1-6 to 0-1 down after a nightmare start to the Division 2 final — but have played enough big Championship games at this stage to never panic.
So, again, they wore Meath down and got the job down to register their first win of the campaign.
The only downside for Donegal was the injury that forced Hugh McFadden off late on with boss Declan Bonner unable to explain the nature of it.
That and the subdued first 20 minutes or so from Donegal were the only low points on an afternoon when they picked up their first Division 1 win since beating Kildare in February of 2018.
“Any time you get two points away from home in Division 1 it’s a good day,” said Bonner.
“I felt after maybe the first 15 or 20 minutes, where we were a wee bit nervy, maybe that was a hangover from the previous Saturday evening against Mayo, that we were in complete control. I thought we should have got more scores on the board and that’s probably one disappointing thing but we kicked 3-8 so happy enough overall.
I thought the way we moved the ball for some of the goals was top class.
"We probably should have had two more goals but I thought the movement was very, very good and we did open up that Meath defence.”
Along with the good vibes generated by hosting a first Division 1 game since 2006, Meath also had the stiff wind at their backs in the first half.
At one stage, corner-back David Toner hoisted over a point from outside the 45-metre line which helped Andy McEntee’s men to open up a 0-4 to 0-1 lead.
But just like all of those games against Donegal last year, Meath couldn’t keep it going and the two goals the visitors got before half-time knocked the stuffing out of the 2019 Leinster finalists.
McFadden Ferry got the first in the 28th minute to put Donegal ahead for the first time at 1-2 to 0-4.
It was a well-taken, typical Donegal goal as they recycled possession and toyed with Meath for what seemed like a matter of minutes before eventually playing in the Gweedore man to blast home.
There was a deja vu moment for captain Murphy too who slotted their second goal from a penalty in the 33rd minute having earlier failed to convert one. The excellent Jamie Brennan won both penalties and Donegal built on their 2-2 to 0-4 half-time lead with a third goal four minutes after the restart.
That was the pick of the bunch as Ryan McHugh channeled his inner Owen Mulligan and threw Bryan McMahon an outrageous dummy before sprinting on and playing in Langan to palm home from close range.
If it was a boxing match they could have waved it off at that stage and Donegal went through the motions from there on.
“We don’t have much time to dwell on this, we’ve got to get ready for the challenge of Galway next Sunday in Letterkenny,” said Bonner. “Galway were very unlucky not to get two points against Kerry on Saturday and Pádraic Joyce is doing a very, very good job, playing an exciting brand of football.”
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Meath who are without key players like Mickey Newman, Shane Walsh, Shane McEntee and Seamus Lavin through injury. Thomas O’Reilly impressed up front for starters, scoring 0-3, while Marcus Brennan saved a penalty from Murphy and was solid generally.
Brennan is Meath’s third goalkeeper in two games and looks set to remain between the sticks for Sunday’s visit of Mayo. That’s a game that the bookies’ favourites for relegation need to win now after losses to Tyrone and Donegal.
“The positives are that we’re missing an awful lot of players due to legacy injuries,” said Meath coach Colm Nally. “They’re not quite ready to come back yet but you have players like Robin Clarke and David Toner who have stood up instead of Shane Gallagher and Seamus Lavin and when the lads all come back we’ll have good competition for places.”
M Murphy (1-2, 1 pen, 2 frees); M Langan (1-1); O McFadden Ferry (1-0); J Brennn (0-2); C Thompson (1 free), H McFadden, N O’Donnell (0-1 each).
T O’Reilly (0-3); C O’Sullivan (0-2, 2 frees), B McMahon (1 free), D Toner (0-1 each).
S Patton; EB Gallagher, N McGee, O McFadden Ferry; C Ward, C O’Donnell, E McHugh; H McFadden, M Langan; P Brennan, R McHugh, C Thompson; P Mogan, M Murphy, J Brennan.
A McClean for E McHugh (50); N O’Donnell for Mogan (55); B McCole for McFadden Ferry (55); J McKelvey for McFadden (67); C Diver for P Brennan (71).
M Brennan; R Clarke, C McGill, D Toner; J McEntee, B Conlon, D Keogan; B Menton, R Jones; M Costello, B McMahon, E Wallace; C O’Sullivan, T O’Reilly, J Wallace.
B Brennan for Costello (h/t); E Devine for E Wallace (48); R Ryan for B Conlon (55); S Tobin for J Wallace (62); J Conlon for McMahon (62).
C Lane (Cork).